Book Review: Albion Awake

Albion Awake
Mystical Anarchism and the National Quest for an Alternative Britain
By Wayne John Sturgeon
Black Front Press, London, 2014, 166pp
ISBN: 978 0 9927452 9 5

Reviewed by Sean Gabb

I begin with my apologies to the author. He sent me a copy of this book months ago. Keith Preston had said I would be a useful reviewer. I said I would review it. I promised I would review it. Then I got even busier than usual, and went into one of my periodic depressions. I never quite forgot the promise. But I did break it, and must now record how ashamed I feel, and how this has contributed to my depression.

 For a flavour of the book, and perhaps a summary of its contents, take this, from p.78:

Today there is the need to develop a true ‘anarchism of the third way’, a holistic, tribal and folkish communalism based on ecology, regionalism and decentralisation. Anti-fascist but also anti-leftist. Today we have a system where economic liberalism is married to cultural Marxism, the individual is isolated and rootless, a passive consumer and non-participant in the post-democratic sphere. In national anarcho-syndicalism, individuals can freely associate with and organise themselves into occupational groups, guilds or syndicates which can then connect the individual to the whole body of society organised into a co-operative enterprise through both workers and bosses self-management and mutual collaboration of the means of production and in the public and the nation’s interest.”

 I see no point in criticising this statement of belief. I think it would be more honest if I were to give my own counter-vision. I believe in England and the English Constitution as they were conceived by the mainstream Whigs between about 1688 and 1886. To be specific, I believe: in a strong but limited central state based in London, and comprising Crown, Lords and Commons, together with an established national church; that the limitation of the English State should lie in a combination of independent courts and a sense of restraint in a largely hereditary ruling class; and that the better classes among the people should be keenly aware of their ancient rights, and both able and willing to combine to preserve them from any encroachment. I take it as natural that the other nationalities who occupy the British Isles should be mostly left alone, so long as they accept English primacy. I also take it as natural that the resulting United Kingdom should lord it over very large parts of the world.

You can laugh, but this is what I honestly believe, and this is what I have always believed. Every scheme I write up of radical change, every demand for freedom of speech and association, every denunciation of multiculturalism and political correctness – all of these terminate in the recreation of England as it used to be seen, and possibly sometimes was.

Sadly, what I want is off the menu. The moral and physical bases of the old order have been swept away. The ruling class is degenerate. The people are ruined. Economic change and mass-immigration have altered the whole nature of the country. In my more sensible moments, I turn to my consolation belief – that technological progress will undermine the foundations of the current order of things, and that free market societies will emerge to carry forward the hope of a liberal civilisation in new forms.

It is in my more sensible moments that I tend to think there is something in Mr Sturgeon’s vision. I dismiss his greenery out of hand: there is no impending natural disaster, and the natural world is to be seen as a vast treasure house to which we have given ourselves the key and that we have the right to do with as we find convenient. I am also too soaked in the thought of the eighteenth century to take his mysticism with a straight face. Even so, we seem to face a choice between a totalitarian state and a collapse into inter-ethnic civil war. Perhaps we face both at the same time. We do need to find some other way through our troubles. Perhaps radical decentralisation – or what the followers of Hans-Hermann Hoppe call “universal secession” – is that way.

The current British State has just as much authority as it is able to compel. It is beyond reforming. All the other European states and the American system are entering much the same crisis of legitimacy. Most states in the Islamic world have already collapsed, or are on the verge of collapse. The Asian states seem to command little affection, but are accepted because everyone in the East wants to be just like us. The African state system is a standing joke. The world might easily be a better place on the whole if the whole state system were simply to be abandoned and replaced by a patchwork of micro-polities.

I say “on the whole” because large parts of the world might easily get worse than they already are. As directed by Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi State had it bad points. On the other hand, most people knew where they stood. They could worship as they pleased. They could have a drink. Their daughters could put on western clothes. The various successor regimes have far less to recommend them. Turning to our own case, I would not like to live in one of Mr Sturgeon’s green communes. I like high technology, and have a grudging respect for big-business capitalism. I like railway trains with power points for me to plug in my computer. I like buying food at Sainsbury. I even rather like being able to look down on some of my neighbours.

This being said, Mr Sturgeon is not suggesting that anyone should be forced to live as he wants. His ideal world seems to be a place where he and his friends can have social credit and self-sufficiency, but people like me can carry on having ceramic crowns on glass-fibre rods screwed into our jaws. His world is not a place where any one scheme of things is imposed on all – no feral social workers to tell us our children are watching too many things on YouTube, no armed bureaucracies to bully us out of smoking and drinking, no robotic police to arrest us for speaking our minds or to stop us from keeping guns in the house. I can easily imagine that the parts of his world settled by me and people like me would be considerably better.

In short, there is room for dialogue between most kinds of libertarian and the national anarchists.

I turn to the appearance of the book. This is lamentably defective. The front cover uses a Gothic font so impenetrable, and so merged into its background colour, I had to open the book to read its title. Also, the paper is bound against the grain, and the pages kept shutting on me.

Never mind that, however. Here is a closing thought. In terms of both structure and guiding assumption, the present world was called into being by England – though both England and her daughters are all much decayed. Perhaps, in considering Mr Sturgeon’s idea of radical decentralisation, we should recall the words of John Milton: “Let not England forget her precedence of teaching Nations how to live.” This time, we might do a better job.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Albion Awake

  1. The title of the book and the quotation from it, tell people all they need to know about the work.

    At least the book does not pretend to be sane and have nasty twists hidden within it. It is openly barmy from the front cover onwards.

    And that is O.K.

    As for Sean Gabb’s counter vision, as presented in his review.

    There is some stuff there in what he writes that I do not agree with – but, as I realised some time ago, as there is more I agree with him on than I disagree with him on it is unjust for me to always go on about the points where I disagree.

    Most of what Sean Gabb says in his counter vision review is largely true.

    I will give just one example of why relying on self restraint by government does not work – 1875.

    In the year 1875 the Disraeli government put the unions above the Common Law (allowing obstruction under the military name “picketing”, and putting union funds largely above civil action even when union officials were engaged in a conspiracy to commits acts of violence against people and places of employment – the courts challenged this wording of this evil Act in the Taft Vale railway judgement, so the matter was beyond all doubt by the “Liberal” Act of 1906), and also in 1875 an Act of Parliament was passed compelling (against the will of local taxpayers) local councils to undertake about 40 government functions – whether they wished to or not. It was also obvious that a German style government stranglehold on education (the Act establishing Education Boards in areas that wanted them having already being passed in 1870) was only a matter of time, the Central government would eventually compel local government to take over education (whether they wanted to or not).

    The Old Whigs (the people of 1688 and all that) would have been horrified about how Thomas Hobbes (with his vision of an unlimited, all powerful, state – and no right to help other people attacked by the state) had become a respectable mainstream thinker by the Victorian Age (as Professor Prichard pointed out more than 70 years ago, even Victorian “critics” of Hobbes such as the “New Liberal” T. H. Green actually shared the terrible base assumptions of Hobbes – an Old Whig would not have been able to tell Hobbes and Green apart, and would have hated both, as would even a Tory such as Dr Johnson), and they would have been horrified at how the “liberalism” of J.S. Mill (with its Ricardian hostility to large landowners, and its belief that there was some sort of “distribution” problem as factory owners tended to be much better off than factory workers) had become normal in the universities.

    However, Dr Gabb is quite right that a liberal such as Gladstone had more in common with the Old Whigs than he had with the “New Liberalism” (whether of Mill family and the Westminster Review group – or with T.H. Green and co), and the spirit of the Old Whigs remained strong in both the Liberal and the Conservative parties.

    The Personal Rights Association, the Liberty and Property Defence League, the Constitutional Club network, the British National Rifle Association (some two million members before 1914).

    So (yes) it is not true that Old Whig ideas only survived in the United States (the American Revolution being a conservative revolt against the Blackstone heresy that Parliament could do anything it liked – a doctrine that would have horrified the Old Whigs such as Chief Justice Sir John Holt), indeed the Covenant of 1914 in Ulster can be seen as an expression of Old Whig ideas – of the idea of basic rights (under natural law) AGAINST Parliament (if need be).

    Sadly even the sectarian element in Ulster (although there were Catholic Unionists – in all parts of Ireland) was present among the Old Whigs also – as it was among some American Founding Fathers such as John Jay (first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court).

    Dr Gabb will remember the Old Whig tune that used to open the BBC radio broadcasts in the early morning – before the left put a stop to it.

    The tune of the 1688 period and the 1776 period has many virtues – but a kindly view of the Roman Catholic Church (and its followers in Ireland) is not one of them.

    Such is history – one must report it honestly, both the good and the bad.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Albion Awake « Attack the System

  3. I might decline Sean Gabb’s invitation to laugh and confine myself to a snigger. Sean Gabb crusades for liberty but believes that we should ‘look up to’ the hereditary aristocracy. But why? After all, they are no more than the descendants of brigands who got lucky.

    Perhaps it is because, pace Sturgeon and his anarchist ideal, we need no longer to ‘look up’ at all. Nations, all over the world and throughout history have spent colossal efforts to raise stone monuments, from the Pyramids of Egypt and Central America, to the statues of Easter Island and the stone circles and Norman cathedrals of Europe. Much ecclesiastical art depicts people as raising their eyes to the heavens. Humans have this almost hard-wired necessity to look upwards for their sources of authority and legitimacy. Then trouble is that whilst there may be much up there of scientific interest, there is nothing at all to advise the human race as to how it might organise its affairs. Up there is empty space.

    As Gabb himself acknowledges, his nostalgic and idealised vision of Victoriana, with the Queen in her palaces and the lords and ladies assembled, where the inferior classes know their place, is over, dead and finished. Gabb confirms the impossibility of his vision when he says that the ruling class is degenerate, The myth that possession of money is an automatic guarantee of moral rectitude and personal probity and integrity … pace Bagehot but despite an entire galaxy and more of instances averring the contrary …has finally been consigned to the dustbin of history where it has long belonged.

    Rather we should look for our sources of authority and legitimacy at one another and at the earth beneath our feet. That is the present direction of travel here and in many countries around the world.

    Gabb’s confession that the British state is beyond reforming, is also significant. There have been periods before when people have come to a similar understanding. We might think of the Cornish rising of 1497, the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Civil War, the Glorious Revolution, and the American Revolution. On such occasions the natural right to rebel against tyranny, so eloquently foreshadowed in the Magna Carta (in its original and proper version) has come to the fore.

    Gabb’s love of the eighteenth century and his citing of what is (to him) a golden age between 1688 and 1886 may also have a bearing. For it was during this time that we experienced the final death of proper Common Law and its supplanting by theories of legal positivism and parliamentary supremacy which may well have contributed to our present malaise.

    In came the positivist notion that a law is a law because it is a law and because the state says so, and the only response is blind obedience under all circumstances. Out went the older notion that law is qualified by natural justice and moral force, and to cite Bereford and Coke, ‘bad law is no law’. Out with it also went any common notion of jury nullification. Such instances are now very rare in this country, although there is still some awareness in the USA. Yet juries are sovereign and can annul statute if the interests of natural justice so command. Thus the law ought to derive its ultimate authority from the people, not from any legal, political of administrative elite. What is mostly forgotten is that the whilst the Crown might be in Parliament, that Crown is also, with reference to the Magna Carta, subject to law and not above law. Thus, Coke was right and Dicey was wrong.

    But where is the rebellion? As Gabb says, “the people are ruined”, Can this stupefied. somatised mass be awakened and induced to concern themselves with anything beyond their own doorsteps to, again in Gabb’s words, “to carry forward the hope of a liberal civilisation in new forms”.

    One symptom of this stupefaction is the green agenda which Gabb so deplores. For a necessary condition for the planned obsolescence mode of production (I do not use the term ‘consumer society’ … that is fatuous, we all consume by necessity … the issue is how we consume) to subsist is that people are induced to regard the world beyond their front doors as some enormous latrine provided solely for their own personal use … “the natural world is to be seen as a vast treasure house to which we have given ourselves the key and that we have the right to do with as we find convenient.” Any expression of tenderness towards that world will invite sneers of ‘tree hugger’.

    As regards the statement that “there is no impending natural disaster” Gabb is simply wrong. Across the planet we see deforestation, desertification, species decline and in some areas collapse, ocean acidification, the silting of estuaries, loss of topsoil, declining, and in some places collapsing, fish stocks, continental smog and so forth.

    Gabb mentions ‘free markets’. If we forensically dissect the Smithean vision of ‘free markets’ and it will become apparent that such can only function when all the participants … both consumers and producers … are small in relation to one another.

    In this regard it is remarkable how few are able to fully and completely grasp the politics of institutional scale. Gabb expresses some regard for the likes of Sainsburys and for corporate capitalism. Yet everywhere the prevailing trend is towards institutional giantism … mergers and ever more mergers, in both business and government. Although Sean Gabb has written recently of the necessity of a divorce between corporatism and libertarianism he seems unable to go that further few inches to understand that excessive concentrations of power will lead to oligarchy and throughout history oligarchy has been the perennial enemy of liberty. Where oligarchy appears abuse will ineluctably follow.

    As things stand the world faces an impending Orwellian horror of domination by a small number of continental and sub-continental superstates, themselves subservient to a supranational commercial neo-feudal elite. An alternative is sometimes evoked of a world Balkanised into thousands of micro states. There is a middle way of hollowing and devolving the state along Swiss lines.

    It is clear that Gabb is both attracted to and uncomfortable with Sturgeon’s ideas. It is like watching an encounter between a cat and a tortoise. In grasping the nature and potential of radical decentralisation, and the politics of institutional scale. he still has some way to go.

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