David McDonagh: Critique of Sean Gabb


David McDonagh

Recently, Sean told me he favoured the Enlightenment rather that the Romantic reaction to it, as daft Ayn Rand did. I said I rather thought he was with Romance up till then. I certainly think that Chris was.

Dirty little ideas like “class”, “struggle”, and “enemy” infuse the Romantic paradigm and the outlook is personal rather than objective whereas the Enlightenment paradigm thinks in terms of ignorance, objective knowledge and the basic unity of interests in any society.

Above, Sean tells us that Chris saw a new enemy in the real struggle. But liberalism has no enemies and it seeks to enlighten one and all. Sean himself likes to talk of the enemy class but that looks like sheer Romance to me.

Our enemy is the institution of the state, we used to say but the state is just a mistaken illiberal form of impersonal organisation. It is based on the confiscation involved in taxation thus it is not free in earning its keep but rather it is proactively coercive and it uses the funds taxed for even more coercion so it is completely illiberal in all it does, but it is based on sheer ignorance rather than on a clash of economic interest groups. One idea that Keynes got right was in thinking it was ideas rather than clashing economic interests that made for conflict and that was a good insight in his 1936 book when so many were confounded by the imaginary class struggle that Marx, and the thinkers he followed before him, had thought were real.

Marx was right that we could classify people as we wished but what truly mattered is the objective economic class interests but he failed to find any such objective interests relating to the classes relating factors of production that actually clashed with the classes he supposed related to the other factors of production and his prediction that all would fall into just two classes, a proletariat related to the factor of labour and a bourgeoisie related to the factor of capital was clear enough one that lacked any vestige of reality whatsoever; but few Marxists ever stopped to think about it. They were too busy opposing others. It was a story on top of a stick but it was good enough for the Romantics who were too keen on opposing the imagined enemy to revise their own message.

There are two classes of those who work freely and those who work for the state today, and the state employees need taxation whilst the free workers need lower, or even no, taxation. So that is a potential clash but it is not a class struggle, as most see the state as needed. All can gain economically from simply rolling back the state. That is the idea liberalism needs to educate all people on. Those who work for the state today will most likely earn more if we get the state domain downsized, or even get rid of the state entirely. There is no essential clash of economic interests in any society. Marx got history wrong in his 1848 pamphlet with Engels.

There is the ambition to rule over other people, the career of politics. Liberalism tends to downgrade that, as it does the work of lawyers too as liberalism aims to repeal statutory laws. And state employees will need to get another job instead of the glorified dole they rest on today. But they too might earn more by serving the public rather than by trying to rule over them.

Above, Sean writes of attacks on the “Enemy Class” but he admits they are not cohesive. Do they even exist?

It is not true that the British libertarian movement has died out compared to 1996. The deaths of Eyrres, Harris, and the like have not meant we have “decayed into an organised mediocrity, enlivened by a set of bizarre personality cults”. The backward cult of daft Ayn Rand has been the only such cult of note and that has ebbed since 1996.

The acme of Political Correctness [PC] was prior to 1990, when that label arose into the mass media and cut what it named in roughly about half; for it worked like a taboo label, or jargon word, of PC itself, like the silly words of “racism”, “sexism” and the rest, in that no one wanted to be called PC. This taboo was almost comical to witness. Free speech got its biggest boost in my lifetime. It has never got back to prior to about 1990 but it has recovered a little bit since 1996.

That statists want us to be persuaded indicates a fact Sean seems to overlook viz. that the liberal idea of liberty is the top idea today; and that it has been at least since 1800, if not since 1700. But what obfuscates this is that non-LAers do not want to vie the liberal idea with whatever illiberal idea that scotches it thus they do not see democracy, or any politics whatsoever, [democracy may be the best form of politics but it is still
illiberal coercion and it is totalitarian too]as being illiberal. They think that to criticise others is unfriendly. PC rules with them as it is not seen as being illiberal. PCers are even deluded that it favours equality for it promotes its pet groups to quasi-privilege by mores or to actual privilege by the PC statutory law. But the result of that is under-privilege for all others.

Anyway, the general public remain apathetic and bored by politics and religion and Sean mistakes them for sheep, which is pure folly, but they do not want to reject illiberal ideas, despite valuing liberty as top idea. They think of adopting both in their apathy whereas the LAers reject all that clashes with the liberal idea.

So even the statists imagine they actually support liberty in their statist outlook. The LAers are pushing on a door that is certainly not locked, if not yet wide open. Not many people want to openly say that they are against liberty. That is why Sean finds his imaginary Enemy Class members so keen on education and voluntary agreement. That is why they do not like to ban things.

Of course, businessmen are not ideologues and it always is “business as usual” for them, whether the state goes to actual war or just taxes more or just regulates more. Few in the LA in the late 1970s thought otherwise but, maybe, Chris imagined that he had learned better later on. Entrepreneurship is about pandering to whatever is wanted by potential customers. The statists forever tell the liberals that “the market is a good servant but a poor master” but the liberal reply is that we do not ever want a master as we prefer to be free. The LA was set up to make liberal propaganda, more like being a charity than a conforming entrepreneurial firm. We do confront and debate with the ignorant but few firms will ever risk alienating customers by doing that.

But note that debate is not competition but rather it is co-operation with the sole common aim of truth in belief or being correct in moral values. Eristic argument is mere gist to the mill of any debate but institutionally, if not personally, or psychologically, the aim is common for the debaters on each side of any debate, as there is the same one common aim of truth in all debate. Debate is an Enlightenment activity in the interests of one and all. But the Romantics imagine otherwise.

Tax cuts are the way ahead. The denationalisation of money is required to stop inflation being used for taxation by the back door. Claptrap about class is a waste of time. Of course businessmen will conform to the state. Why would anyone ever expect otherwise?

Blair was a return to the pre-1931 old Labour but the epigones of backward Attlee thought it was truly New Labour. It was a defeat of politics, where they often sought to follow the latest opinion polls, like servers of the public rather than to act politically, like rulers, but institutionally they were all coercive rulers nevertheless. But Sean feels this was a sort of setback for liberalism.

It is not clear to me what Sean wants by “really decisive action” from politics or any government but it does not seem to favour liberty in any way. He seems to be merely confused. I have, repeatedly, seen Sean write about “good government” but does he imagine that sort of filth could ever be liberal?

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