Political community and the Anti-Enlightenment

Political community and the Anti-Enlightenment

By Neil Lock

September 2017

It’s plain that there’s a lot wrong in politics today. Our prosperity, our lifestyles, our rights and freedoms and our sanity are all under assault by the political class and their hangers on. So today I’ll ask: What has gone wrong?

I’ll state my conclusions up front. I see two strands of mishap, which together have led to the present situation. The first is weakening of the bonds that ought to hold political communities together. This, I think, has led to the decline and consequent failure of the nation state as a political system. It has also aided the rise of internationalist and globalist schemes, such as the European Union and the United Nations.

The second strand is a climate of thought, shared by many in the political class and among their cronies, which rejects the values of the 17th- and 18th-century Enlightenment. It rejects ideas like human progress, reason and science, objective truth, universal natural law, tolerance of difference, and the rights and freedoms of the human individual. Instead, it resists progress, denies the value of facts and rational thought, promotes moral relativism, and aims to politicize everything and to impose a suffocating conformism on everyone.

Along with this anti-Enlightenment backlash goes an activist agenda, that seeks to force authoritarian policies on all of us. Its proponents include: A global cadre of unaccountable élites. Most intellectuals in the humanities, and many in medicine and the sciences. Most of those that self identify as environmentalists. Feminists, social justice warriors and other practitioners of identity politics. Socialists, fascistic types, and wannabe totalitarians. Petty tyrants and jobsworths, that get their kicks out of making life difficult for people. Many, if not most, in the mainstream media. And the great majority of politicians, of all factions.

While some like to call this agenda “cultural Marxism,” in my view it’s rather broader than that. I see it as mixing elements of three political ideologies: socialism/communism, fascism and conservatism. If I had to pick a single word to encapsulate it, I’d call it illiberalism.

Individual, partnership and family

I’ll begin my account of political community with the smallest community of all; the individual.

Human beings are individuals. That’s a biological fact. Each of us has our own body and our own mind. And yet, we are social too. Man is a convivial animal. Convivial literally means “living together.” But it has also a secondary meaning of living well together. It’s in our nature to live together, and to build communities and societies for mutual benefit.

The smallest multi-person society is the partnership, and specifically the partnership of two. Two adults of opposite sexes can provide the zygote, if you will, from which a family can develop. The resulting “nuclear” family, of two parents and their children, is the canonical formulation of the next social unit up the scale. Beyond this, individuals can form and can join societies for many other purposes, like recreation, wealth generation and mutual defence.

The individual is the fundamental unit, from which all societies are built. And the family is of fundamental importance, too. For the family is the smallest social unit which can survive indefinitely. Moreover, it’s important to note that the individual and the family are different in kind from all other social units, because they are not voluntary. Each of us is born with a particular combination of characteristics, of talents and disabilities, of strengths and weaknesses. Furthermore, each of us is born into a family, which has its own traits, both good and bad. In both cases it’s up to us, as individuals, to make the best we can of the hand we are dealt.

Bands and tribes

Long ago, when we were hunter-gatherers, the primary social institution beyond the family was the band. Bands consisted of several families, often closely related and usually numbering a few dozen people. And the organization was generally loose; while the band’s elders were valued for their advice, there was no formal power structure.

The primary forces, which bound the band together, were biological kinship and shared interest in finding food. These would have given the members of the band a sense of common purpose or community; and would have led them to co-operate in hunting. For example: “You flush the birds out of hiding, and I’ll kill them.” But they would also have had ties of mutual provision, or trade. Not merely at the level of: “You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” But also, as Adam Smith put it: “Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want.”

Thus, the binding forces of a band are three: kinship, community and trade. There are ties of kinship from the individual to the family, and from the family to the band. There are ties of community, which bind each individual to the band as a whole, and vice versa. And there are ties of trade between the individual and other individuals and groups, in both directions.

Sometimes, bands would join together into larger units, commonly called tribes. They might have a formal group of elders, making decisions on behalf of the whole tribe. For example, on where to go to maximize the chance of finding prey at a particular time of year. And particularly among larger tribes, they might be ruled over by a headman and his advisors. Such systems are still used today in some traditional African societies.

When a tribe was well led, this could provide it with a fourth binding force, of leadership. The members of the tribe would acquire respect, and perhaps even love, for the individual or individuals who led their tribe, and brought it success.


Another binding force in a tribal society may be a shared religion. The people of the early tribes usually believed in many gods. And, one presumes, each tribe would have had its own set of gods, differing in one way or another from those of other tribes. They also had a priesthood, an early example of a privileged class. These officiated at the festivals which were held in honour of the gods; but they also often performed skilled services, like medicine and counselling.

In such societies, religion could supply a fifth binding force, beyond kinship, community, trade and leadership. The gods, interpreted by the priesthood, would have strongly influenced the conduct of individuals within the tribe. And they would also have had a strong effect on the headmen or elders, and so on the conduct of the tribe as a whole.

Land and people

About twelve and a half thousand years ago, a great change took place. Groups of people, in several parts of the world, abandoned the traditional hunting and gathering. Instead, each group settled down in one place, and began to cultivate crops and to domesticate animals.

When conditions were benign, the new approach allowed the populations of these groups to increase. The result was the rise of the Neolithic village. But not every year brought a good harvest to every village. In such times, groups that were short of food would seek to use force to take for themselves the product of the labours of other villages. Thus was unleashed on humanity the scourge of war.

Now, a political state isn’t an inevitable result of social systems like the villages of Neolithic times. Indeed, the earliest states only appeared several thousand years after the Neolithic revolution. Nevertheless, the territorial state seems to be an attractor point, towards which political societies are drawn.

There are several theories as to how the first states came about. Of these, Robert Carneiro’s seems to me as believable as any. Where arable land was scarce and its area circumscribed, when there was famine and so wars between villages, the losers could no longer flee to a new territory. The conquerors would soon have worked out that they were better off if they didn’t exterminate the defeated. Instead, they subjected these villages to taxation in the form of their produce.

This had two consequences. First, the size of the political unit increased, from one village to many. And second, within such a unit there would have arisen two classes. A ruling class, formed of the strongest warriors and their cronies and hangers on; and a productive class, subjected to the ruling class. The state was up and running.

As time passed, a variety of social structures evolved. But most had one thing in common. That is, that power was in the hands of a small, élite minority, who did not contribute to food production, and thus had to be supported by the labours of the ordinary people. Furthermore, in many cases accession to the élite was hereditary. More often than not, there was a single individual at the top of the pile – a chieftain or king. And the chieftain was surrounded by an aristocracy of senior members of select families.

Those chieftains who ruled and judged well, and benefited the group members as well as the group as a whole, would have been seen as great leaders. So, despite the inequality pervasive in such a society, people in these chiefdoms would still have felt bound to the group and to its leaders. And they would also have felt an attachment to the territory of the chiefdom, and even more to the particular parcel of land which they farmed. Thus, their society would have acquired a sixth binding force, which I’ll call proximity. And individuals would have acquired a strong sense of we; a love of our land and of our people, or what we would today call patriotism.

The city state

The city state of ancient Greece was a great advance on what preceded it. It was the environment in which the first codes of law, and some of the first examples of money, were introduced. The city state began as a mutual defence society. Indeed, it was a community in the sense of the Latin com- and munire, meaning “sharing fortifications.” But it went further. For, inside the walls of a city state, there was time and opportunity to experiment with ways of organizing the society.

Each city state was different. Each had its own culture and values. Athens, for example, had a culture which valued rational thought. And it encouraged skilled and talented foreigners to settle there. Aristotle was one such. Furthermore, it had a system called democracy, in which all members of the privileged class of full citizens could speak and vote in the assembly, and so have a say in the doings of the city as a whole. Sparta, on the other hand, was a militaristic oligarchy, closed to most foreigners, and not allowing its own people to travel.

But there were similarities between the city states, too. Wars among city states were in those times all but endemic. All the city states relied on the institution of slavery. While many cities in theory allowed political rights to all male property owners, in practice only a minority of the residents had full political rights. And the cities, like the earlier chiefdoms, were often dominated by aristocratic clans. Yet in its heyday, the city state was seen as like a family. And those without full rights, even women, slaves and immigrants, nevertheless felt bound to the people and the culture of the city they lived in.

Thus the city state added, to the six binding forces of kinship, community, trade, leadership, religion and proximity, a seventh: a shared culture and a shared set of values. The people of a city would have felt attachment to their culture, and to the values which it promoted.

Cultural nationalism

I’ll skip now over approaching two millennia, to the beginnings of nationalism. I’ve heard it said that scholars place the origin of nationalism anywhere between the 8th and the 18th centuries. I put my own pin firmly in the middle of that period, at the end of the 13th century. And I credit the Welsh with being the first nationalists. For, once Edward had conquered them, they knew they were no match for the English on the battlefield. So they made the best of a bad job, treasuring their culture and their language rather than political ambitions.

Something similar happened with the Scots, although their brand of nationalism was more Gaelic than Scottish. The English and the French, too, were not immune from such feelings; probably because for many centuries they were at so often each other’s throats. And so, gradually, senses of nationhood and civil society grew among different populations in Europe.

The Westphalian nation state

By the 16th century, there was a problem. With the split between Catholicism and Protestantism, religion had not only lost its ability to bind people together, but had become a disruptive force. The solution to this seemed to be separate those of different religions into different territories, on the model of cuius religio, eius religio.

In such an atmosphere, fresh ideas were needed. Enter Frenchman Jean Bodin, and his concept of sovereignty. In Bodin’s scheme, the sovereign prince has many powers over the people within his state or territory. He has power to make laws to bind them. To make war and peace. To appoint the principal officers of the state. To be the final judge of appeals, and to pardon those convicted if he so desires. To issue a currency, to levy taxes and impose duties, and to exempt those he wishes from such taxes or duties. Further, the sovereign prince is above the law. He isn’t bound by any of the laws he makes, he bears no responsibility for his actions, and he is only accountable to God, not to any human being.

One can be forgiven for thinking that Bodin merely took up where Machiavelli had left off, and that his scheme is no more than a recipe for tyranny; as it indeed has often proven to be. Bodin was, after all, mainly seeking to increase the power of the French monarchy. However, he did make it clear that the acts of a sovereign prince must always be based on justice and natural reason. And that such a prince is always subject to what he calls the law of God and nature.

By the 17th century, Bodin’s scheme had become the basis of the “Westphalian” nation state. Such a state claims sovereignty over a territory, and a right to order all affairs within it. It claims rights to make laws, to go to war, to tax, to be the final arbiter within the territory. And – though many will try to deny it – state functionaries still retain, to a greater or lesser extent, immunity from responsibility for acts carried out on the state’s behalf.

Even today (parliaments, democracy, bills of rights, constitutions and other bags on the side – even the EU and UN – notwithstanding) this is still the primary form of political structure in the world. Yet in terms of binding forces, the Westphalian nation state adds nothing beyond those of the city state of old: kinship, community, trade, leadership, religion, proximity and culture.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries affected primarily the European Christian cultures, and those derived from them. It was not, at the time, a world-wide phenomenon. Though it spread to the Jews within a few decades, and its knock-on effects reached places like Japan and much of the Islamic world during the 19th century. However, its ideals set the tone, over two centuries and more, for most human societies.

The Enlightenment freed human minds from shackles both religious and political. It promoted ideas of advancement and human progress. And it supported a belief in the inherent goodness of the human mind. One of the most fundamental Enlightenment ideas was that of reason; that is, thinking in orderly, rational ways, and of using logic to build and to judge mental models of reality. The Enlightenment celebrated reason, and the independent use of it by human beings. And it brought to the fore the idea of reasonable thinking, argument and behaviour – not extreme, not excessive, but in accordance with reason.

Another fundamental idea was that truth is objective, independently of what people happen to think about particular truths. And as a result, we can discover truths; we can use our reason to build up as objective as possible a picture of the world around us. Therefore, the Enlightenment put a high value on rational thought; and on the scientific method, which uses observations, hypotheses, experimentation, reason and logic to seek to build an objective view of our surroundings. Further, it encouraged the application of reason to areas of thought beyond the physical and scientific, including ethics, politics and economics.

In religion, many Enlightenment thinkers sought to make the exercise of faith less confrontational than in earlier times, and so promoted religious tolerance. Others went further, seeking to lessen the political power of organized religion, or even to eradicate religious authority entirely.

In politics, the Enlightenment brought the idea of a civil order based on natural law. Along with this came ideas such as the natural rights and natural equality of all human beings. Of a social contract, to enable people to live together in a civil society and to protect their natural rights. Of individual liberty, and the right to do whatever isn’t explicitly prohibited. And of freedom of opinion, speech and thought. The new practical ideas in politics included: constitutional government, separation of powers, separation of church and state, and that government must be for the benefit of and with the consent of the governed. On the more radical margins, these ideas even included some kind of democracy, and a government of laws, not of men.

In economics, Enlightenment thinkers laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution. They sought to promote the market mechanism and what became laissez faire capitalism. And at around the same time, the development of colonies by several European powers began the long process of breaking down barriers of culture, language, geography and religion.

A time of revolutions

Good ideas have consequences. And these were no exception to the rule. The American Revolution was perhaps the embodiment of Enlightened politics; though its roots can be seen in the earlier ideas of John Locke, who had helped to secure the Glorious Revolution in England.

The French Revolution, on the other hand, went badly sour. Though starting with high ideals of individual liberty, equality and fraternity, it de-generated into a tyranny. What seems to have happened is that, in their eagerness to up-end the existing order, the revolutionaries tried to use the political state to do it. That’s like trying to fight fire with fire. And the results – bloodshed, war and eventually dictatorship – should have been predictable.

As to the causes of the failure, scholars differ. But there’s a point of view, in which I find some weight, that the revolution became corrupted away from its own professed values because some of its philosophical leaders were not quite what they appeared to be. I’m thinking in particular of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The more I read about the man, the less I like him. Certainly his conception of a social contract, in which individuals must surrender their rights and be forced to obey the “general will,” is far more collectivist than John Locke’s idea of people voluntarily forming a society to protect their rights. There’s a case to be made that, far from being a progressive and a supporter of individual rights, Rousseau was actually a big-government shill.

Political nationalism

Whatever one may think of the French Revolution, one thing it did was inspire people to look for a political set-up, which could satisfy the desires and interests of individuals as well as of the group as a whole. Thus were born the modern ideas of nationalism and the nation state. The idea of popular sovereignty, too, grew out of the revolutionary ideals. No longer were people willing to kow-tow to the arbitrary dictates of some king or ruling class. Instead, they sought to allow every member of the community a say in how the nation was ruled.

But political nationalism had many negatives, too. Religion and culture, which had originally been binding forces, could easily become divisive and destructive. Political societies were larger than those of earlier times. So, divisions could easily appear between classes with different aims and aspirations. Worse, the idea of “my country, right or wrong” placed the nation, and so the state, above moral principles; even those like “Thou shalt not kill.” And so, nationalism spawned wars. And wars enabled the state steadily to increase its powers over people.

Three centuries of ideology

In Enlightenment times, there were in essence just two political ideologies: liberalism and conservatism. Liberalism – what we would now call classical liberalism – was a bottom-up view of politics. Liberals saw the institution of society, and therefore political societies, as being for the benefit of each individual. And they promoted the new, progressive ideas of reason, tolerance and natural rights. Conservatives, on the other hand, took a top-down view. They saw the state, and its powerful élites such as kings, nobles and church leaders, as possessing both authority and immunity from being held to account. And they resisted change, seeking to preserve the existing order both religious and political. Along, of course, with their own privileged positions in it.

Things became more complicated in the early 19th century, with the advent of socialism. One of the difficulties in discussing socialism is that there is no clear, widely accepted definition of it. For some, it means collective ownership and control over the means of producing, distributing and exchanging goods. For others, it means a social organization with an egalitarian distribution of wealth, and no such thing as private property. My 1928 dictionary calls it the “principle that individual liberty should be completely subordinated to the interests of the community with the deductions that can be drawn from it e.g. the State ownership of land & capital.” One thing all socialists seem to share, however, is a burning desire for political change in a socialist direction.

To be fair to them, the earliest socialists weren’t all top-down statists. Often, they sought to create model communities, bound together by shared ideology. Robert Owen’s community at New Harmony, Indiana was an example. Of course, most – if not all – of these communities failed. And so, by the 20th century, socialism had degenerated into a militant collectivism, in which Society and the socialist agenda are paramount, and the individual is of no significance.

Another ideology, which began to grow at much the same time as early socialism, was anarchism. The distinguishing feature of anarchism is its opposition to the state and to political government. Anarchists prefer to associate into non-hierarchical communities, each with its own style. And in many cases, these styles run parallel to those favoured by socialists. But the big difference between anarchists and socialists is that most anarchists don’t want to force their ideology on anyone outside their own communities. Except, of course, for those 19th century anarchists, who sought to use violence to get rid of the state and its ruling class.

Then came Marxism and communism. Marxism claimed to be scientific socialism – an attempt to apply the scientific method to social and political ideas. But the results, when it was put into practice, were not good: famines, massacres and mass deportations, to name but three. And the Marxists saw capitalism – that is, ownership of property and of the means of production by individuals and by voluntarily formed groups – as a system that led, not to prosperity, but to systematic inequality and instability. Supporters of Marxism and communism therefore sought to overthrow the capitalist system, and to impose state control on the economy.

That had two bad effects, at least. First, the Marxist promotion of class war between working people and the (not very well defined) classes they called “capitalists” and “bourgeoisie” wasn’t very helpful in binding people together, was it? And state control over the economy weakened, bit by bit, one of the most important binding forces of all; trade between individuals.

Yet, while Marxists predicted that the state would wither away, they also set out to capture the state and to use it to achieve their objectives! No wonder communism turned out to be so evil. No wonder the societies it led to were ruled by small minorities that brutally oppressed everyone else. No wonder communism caused nearly a hundred million unnecessary human deaths.

Also closely associated with socialism is egalitarianism. In its weak form, it seeks equality of opportunity; in which all individuals can achieve preferment according to their demonstrated abilities, not based on – for example – race, religion, gender or nepotism. But many egalitarians today favour a stronger version of this idea; equality of outcome. That is, similar rewards for all, regardless of talents or application. Egalitarians, therefore, hate able people, particularly those who develop their talents to the full. And most of all, they hate individuals who are economically competent and independent. Yet they seem blind to the fact that to enforce such an equality requires extreme inequality in political power. As Friedrich von Hayek put it: “A claim for equality of material position can be met only by a government with totalitarian powers.”

Then came fascism. In some ways, it’s hard to separate fascism from communism. In their heydays, both shared an attachment to dictatorial power, extinguishing individual freedom, forcible suppression of opposition, social indoctrination and a lack of ethical restraints on the state. But in some respects, fascists went further. They hated anyone who was different, particularly in race. They sought to make groups of people into scapegoats, and wanted to purge those they considered to be inferior, such as Jews. They valued duty and discipline, glorified violence and war, and gave hero status to the ideal of the warrior. On the other hand, fascists didn’t so much want to destroy the capitalist system, as to turn it to their own advantage. It was possible to get rich under fascism, but only for those that unceasingly sought to increase the power and well-being of the fascist state.

In the course of the 20th century, other evil ideologies also sought to establish themselves in various parts of the world. Notable among them have been racism, as in apartheid South Africa and Idi Amin’s Uganda; theocracy, as in Iran; and dictatorship, as in North Korea. Each of these ideologies was and is, at root, a perversion of one of the binding forces of human societies. Racism is a perversion of kinship, theocracy of religion, and dictatorship of leadership.

Then there’s welfarism, also known as nanny-statism, an ideology which led the ruling class to try to bribe people into believing that the state is a benefit to them. They set up elaborate, re-distributory schemes for welfare, or health, or education, or whatever else was flavour of the month. And they commandeered the resources necessary to implement these schemes. But the main effect of such schemes has been to drag down into dependence on the state many who, if allowed the chance, would have been well able to prosper through their own efforts.

Moreover, every nett benefit to a Paul or Paula must be paid for by some Peter. And Peter must also pay for the bureaucracy that maladministers the system, and the politically connected cronies that feed off it. Thus welfarism, far from helping the poor as its supporters claim, actually re-distributes wealth from the politically poor to the politically rich. Worse, Paul and Paula don’t know that Peter is the one who is providing for them. And so Peter doesn’t receive, for his pains, any thanks or appreciation at all. Thus welfarism weakens the bonds of trade, community, proximity and even kinship, which should have held together Peters and Paulas, Pauls and Petras. And it impoverishes both its apparent beneficiaries and their reluctant benefactors. That isn’t a sustainable set-up.

Then there are warfarism and its comrade, the security state. A warfarist state behaves like a school bully towards those outside it, and often towards those inside it too. It seeks to interfere in people’s affairs, in ways almost always damaging to those affected. It instigates “war on drugs,” “war on terror” and the like. It seeks any excuse to use its military forces. And often, while decrying terrorism, it encourages – and even carries out – terrorist acts. At the same time, it pries into people’s lives, and monitors and records their actions in ever increasing detail. And like fascism, it often seeks to make scapegoats out of people who may (or may not) have committed some small misdeed or irresponsibility in their past.

Then there are feminism, affirmative action, the authoritarianism of “social justice warriors,” and other manifestations of what has come to be called identity politics. In this kind of politics, individuals identify themselves with groups who have, or have had in the past, some real or perceived grievance; women, gay people or black people, for example. And they advance political positions that seek to empower these groups relative to other people. At the same time, many of them seek to promote political correctness, and to stifle the freedom of speech of those who disagree with them. And they see people, not as people, but as members of groups. Thus the rights of the individual get lost in the noise.

Then there’s what I call social engineering fever. Those affected by this particular ailment seem to think that they possess a right to interfere in others’ lives, for no better purpose than their own social goals. These zealots like nothing better than to “intervene,” seeking to change people’s behaviour. Their targets range from users of drugs and prostitution, to smokers, alcohol and pop drinkers, car drivers and many more. And they are adept at using state dominated education and politically correct media to promote their nefarious schemes.


But among today’s ideologies, pride of place for sheer evil goes to environmentalism and the green agenda. At one level, it’s a perverted religion. It worships the planet and “nature” as if they were gods, and shows contempt for human beings, both as individuals and as a species. At another level, environmentalism is like a mix of communism, fascism and conservatism.

The green agenda is like communism, in that it seeks to destroy our free market civilization, and to deny its fruits to the people of the world. But it also seeks to trash our Enlightenment heritage of reason and searching for truth. Its promoters spout lies, misrepresentations, bullshit and unfounded scares. They falsify past records to try to make their case. They misuse the scientific method, and present chicanery as if it was science. They call anyone who opposes them nasty names like “deniers.” They claim their science is settled, when in reality it is suspect or dubious, or at least highly uncertain. Many of them can’t, or won’t, debate the facts objectively. They invert the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof, and require those they accuse to prove a negative.

The green agenda is like fascism, too, in that it seeks to take away our freedoms, and to impose on us arbitrary and ever tightening personal and collective limits on what we may do. Among much else, it wants to force us to: Stop smoking. Walk, cycle or use public transport instead of driving cars. Cram ourselves into compact cities and high-rises. Recycle religiously. And dismantle our affordable, reliable energy infrastructure, and replace it by energy that is expensive, intermittent and requires gigantic solar arrays or ugly, noisy wind farms. Moreover, the greens like to make scapegoats out of those who, through no fault of their own, have been led into actions deemed environmentally incorrect – for example, drivers of diesel cars.

But the green agenda is also ultra-conservative. Its promoters seem to fear any kind of change that isn’t part of their agenda – including “climate change.” They babble about “sustainable development,” but they don’t seem to want us to develop much at all. They want to destroy dynamism in Western economies, and to slow or halt human progress. Indeed, many of them want to force us back into a pre-industrial age. And they even try to make out that our activities are damaging the planet by extinguishing species – of whose very existence we can’t be certain!

What the greens actually want to force on us is not sustainability, but stasis. But stasis can never be sustainable. Indeed, stasis is death.


Meanwhile in many countries, beginning in the mid 19th century there grew up an institution called democracy. But that’s a misnomer. For this scheme isn’t like Athenian democracy at all. It’s really just a sham.

Instead of having a real voice in political affairs, each of us is merely permitted to cast a vote for one (or occasionally more) of a field of candidates, that claim that if elected they will “represent” us (whatever that means). And these selections, totted up in more or less complicated ways, are used to determine which of a number of criminal gangs called political parties is to be granted licence to rule over us for the next several years.

I suppose that, initially, many people thought this system might give them a voice in how they were governed. This phase, which I call democracy-1, must have felt like something of a honeymoon period. But it wasn’t long before there emerged political factions, looking to take advantage of the situation; as James Madison warned way back in 1787.

In this phase, democracy-2, two factions (or, rarely, three or more) attract cores of support, and promote policies designed to favour their own supporters. People who don’t feel a strong attachment to one faction or another will tend to vote for whichever side seems less evil at the time. And this, as often as not, is the faction currently out of power. So, power tends to swing from one side to the other and back again. The social fabric becomes more and more stretched, and the tone of politics nastier and nastier.

But there’s worse. When a faction receives a democratic mandate, that gives an apparent legitimacy to whatever policies it promotes. So, democracy can easily arrive at the so called tyranny of the majority, in which 10 people can gang up on 9 people, and steal their resources through targeted taxation; or tell them what to do, however unreasonable, and back it up by threats of violence. Democracy-2 can even bring about the tyranny of a minority. For factions often acquire power, based on the support of less than a quarter of those eligible to vote.

What kind of labels do these factions pin on themselves? Some identify as liberals, yet their policies are anything but liberal. Most of them seem to be merely socialists that don’t have the guts to admit it. Some call themselves democrats, a code word for “we want to use the system to benefit our supporters at the expense of everyone else.” And “social democrats” are socialists to boot. Others – such as greens – call themselves progressives, yet their policies are fascistic and ultra-conservative. Meanwhile, many of those that bill themselves as conservatives turn out, on examination, to be warfarists, racists, religious zealots or some combination of these. None of the factions are what they claim to be. And none of them are worth voting for, anyway.

This system allows no voice at all to those who cherish Enlightenment values, or who are liberals or progressives in the true senses of those words. Nor, indeed, does it offer anything to those who simply want to mind their own businesses and live their lives in their own ways. Thus many who oppose socialism, fascism, welfarism and warfarism, the green agenda and the like, have felt impelled to vote for “conservative” politicians, thinking perhaps that they are the least of many evils. But regrettably, these voters are in error. For even the least of several evils is still an evil.

Meanwhile, in many places – particularly in Europe – democracy-2 has moved into the next stage, democracy-3. Here, different political factions may spout different rhetoric; and their policies may, perhaps, be a little different around the edges. But their ideologies are essentially the same. Welfarism and environmentalism, for example, are at the roots of the policies of almost all parties that have any realistic chance of power. Moreover, the system tends to elevate the worst, the most dishonest, devious and psychopathic, into positions of power. So, most policies in democracy-3 are directed to strengthening and expanding state power. They are made, not in the interests of the people, but to benefit the political class and their hangers-on, and to satisfy the agendas of special interest groups. Thus, under democracy-3, most of us are forced to live our lives under political ideologies that are distasteful or downright hostile towards us.

Further, democracy as it exists today has a dramatic negative effect on the binding forces of political societies. Leadership becomes perverted into the imposition of bad policies. Those, who suffer under the rule of political parties hostile to them, lose all sense of common purpose and community. For those that support harmful policies are, in effect, assaulting the victims of those policies; and in a particularly dishonest and cowardly way. Moreover, to the extent that the political state controls and distorts the economy, it also weakens the binding force of trade. And those, whose values conflict with the political correctness du jour, feel alienated from the culture they live in. Far from promoting social cohesion, today’s democracy destroys it.

There’s a fourth stage of democracy, too; already into some countries, like Greece. In democracy-4, the political state reaches a critical mass. Those dependent on the state, either for work or for benefits, become an absolute majority. Thus under democracy-4, a single interest bloc can forever outvote, and so oppress, everyone else. Democracy-4 is a terminal social illness.

The decline of religion

All this has been accompanied by a weakening of the binding force of religion. In and of itself, I’m not too concerned by the decline of religion, a credo which I outgrew at age 16. For I find religion to be a thought process that exists at a level lower than the rational mind. So, it isn’t amenable to reason. And therefore, the only sane attitude to religion is tolerance. Except, of course, towards those that want to browbeat or to force their own religious views on to others.

But the decline of religion has had, indirectly, a very great negative effect. For it has taken away the sense of accountability to a higher authority, which was supposed to restrain the conduct of those in power in the state. A godless sovereign prince has no-one to answer to. So he can do what he wants, however unjust or unreasonable. Moreover, a godless political state recognizes no limits to its authority. So it can do whatever seems expedient to the rulers, however evil and destructive it may be. Indeed, there’s a case to be made that, in the minds of many in the political class and among their hangers-on, the state itself has become a god.

The failure of the nation state

To sum up nation states and their politics today. We’re still using a 16th-century political system. Isn’t that crazy? We don’t use 16th- century medicine any more, or 16th-century farming techniques, or 16th-century transport. And we’ve been through the Enlightenment since then, for goodness’ sake! So why are we still suffering under a system that not only allows, but encourages, an élite to do to us exactly what it wants, with no accountability or come-back?

A government that does its job properly ought to be a benefit to every individual among the governed; real criminals excepted, of course. It should be like an impartial umpire. But today’s political governments drain fairly earned resources from people, and use them for selfish, immoral, destructive political schemes. They are no longer umpires, but have become vampires. We live today, not under John Adams’ vision of government of laws not of men, but under the rule of bad laws made by bad men.

The Westphalian nation state is out of date. It’s no longer fit for purpose; if, indeed, it ever was. Over time, it has atrophied the binding forces, like community, trade, leadership, proximity and culture, which ought to hold its people together. And democracy has not only failed to deliver its promise, but has made and is making things worse. Thus nothing remains to hold nation states together, except fear of being targeted by state violence or theft. That’s not sustainable.

Internationalism and globalism

The ruling élites know, of course, that nation states have lost most of their former ability to bind people together. So, they continue to seek new excuses to keep themselves in power and to increase their power. And these include international political schemes and globalization.

Back in 1999, the green socialist spinmaster Tony Blair spoke of a doctrine of international community, in which “we are all internationalists now.” The label “post-Westphalian” was subsequently applied to this idea. At the time, this sounded like typical socialist claptrap; for socialists have long been internationalists. But it seems, in hindsight, that it was mostly an attempt to justify Blair’s subsequent warfarism.

International politics shows at its worst, though, in the shape of the European Union and the United Nations. I’ve always been leery of words like “union” and “united” when used in a political sense. For they represent centralization of power, and the suppression of the individual which usually accompanies it. (That goes for “United Kingdom” and “United States,” too). It isn’t in jest that some of my friends refer to the EU as the EUSSR!

Up until about 1991, I thought that the Common Market, or European Economic Community, was generally a good thing. But when I first heard the words “European Union,” my alarm bells went off. What had been sold to us as an economic project, had morphed into something very different; a political federation, with the EU making directives to bind national governments. If the people of Europe had been told this was the objective back in the 1970s or before, I doubt they would have gone along with it. If only because having a third party like the EU making national policies contradicts any idea of “democracy,” which many still believed in back then.

And then there’s the UN. In its first incarnation, as the League of Nations, it may have done some good in its attempts to prevent war, although it ultimately failed. Even in the early days of the UN, some good things were done. The 1948 Declaration on Human Rights, for example, is well intentioned; though I find it like the curate’s egg, mixing genuine rights with socialist claptrap like social security and “free” education. And UN peacekeepers do some useful work in places like Cyprus.

But the UN, like the EU, has morphed into a malign and activist institution. The UN is the main driver of the green and “sustainable development” agenda, which it has been pushing since at least the early 1980s. It extends its tentacles into areas as diverse as loans to developing countries, gender equality and public health. Its activists are unelected and unaccountable. And it harbours many that want to set up a world government; and that want such a government to be strong, monolithic and even, some say, fascistic.

As far as economic globalization goes, a world without trade barriers would be a good thing. And international trade between people of different cultures has the potential to provide a binding force, which can help to hold together humanity as a whole. But what we actually have today is quite different from a truly global economy.

In recent decades, it has become obvious that governments and big companies (national and multi-national) have been colluding. Sometimes they seek to harm foreign competition, other times to hobble smaller competitors closer to home. I have reason to believe that I myself am a victim of just such a collusion. Most often, they seek a political deal in which government and the big companies win, and everyone else loses; like using the climate change agenda to drive electricity prices up. Thus, the prospect of gain through political means corrupts businessmen into becoming cronies of the political class, and doing their dirty work. And the political class reward them handsomely for it.


I can’t leave the subject of internationalism without a brief discussion of migration. It seems that on this subject there are two main currents of thought, which move towards opposite extremes. On the one hand, some favour maximum freedom of movement for everyone, regardless of race, place of birth, or received culture or religion. On the other hand, there are those who equate a nation with a race, a culture, a region of birth, a religion or some combination of the four. And who, therefore, strongly resist inward migration by those they consider “foreign.”

Myself, I tend towards the former view. For national borders are, in many places, arbitrary. Often, they are no more than accidents of history. And to allow a state a right to control who may go into or out of its territory, and therefore who may meet whom, seems to me an excessive power to give to an organization that has far too much power already.

That said, though, I can understand the feelings of those who see their culture being diluted, and their ties of kinship, proximity or religion washed away, by mass immigration. And most of all when this migration is encouraged or even deliberately planned by the ruling class, for example in an attempt to shore up an unsustainable welfare system. Or when the incomers seem likely to cause substantial change in the demographics, and so in the longer term the culture and values, of a nation. This problem is not, in my view, soluble within the current framework of nation states and democracy. A more radical solution is needed.

The Anti-Enlightenment

Even setting aside philosophical differences between promoters of the Enlightenment, it had enemies from the start. These enemies saw the failure, and the consequences, of the French Revolution as failure of the Enlightenment ideas as a whole. And in the intervening two centuries or so, the anti-Enlightenment backlash has broadened. One aspect of this backlash, in more recent times, has been the movement called postmodernism. This and similar attitudes seem to have profoundly affected many, if not most, of today’s intellectuals and their followers.

I’ll try, as briefly as I can, to contrast the Enlightenment and anti-Enlightenment viewpoints.

Where the Enlightenment view sees human minds, and thus human beings, as inherently good, the anti-Enlightenment sees humans as naturally bad and “sinful,” and needing to be restrained. Where the Enlightenment view sees human social and economic progress as natural and desirable, the anti-Enlightenment resists change.

From the Enlightenment point of view, truth is objective. A particular truth or fact may of course be unknown, or poorly understood, or wrongly apprehended, at a particular time. But all truths can, in principle at least, be discovered. In contrast, the anti-Enlightenment view holds that facts can be different for different individuals, groups or cultures; and that feelings are often more important than facts. In this view there is no such thing as objective truth. And thus there can be no way in which people, when they are divided by differences, can agree on anything by argument alone. Ultimately, force is the only possible arbiter.

Where the Enlightenment view celebrates reason, the anti-Enlightenment is skeptical about it. Where Enlightenment people seek to think and behave in ways that are reasonable, those of the anti-Enlightenment seem to want to go out of their way to be unreasonable. Where the Enlightenment view places a high value on science, the anti-Enlightenment corrupts science by trying to mix it with politics.

In ethics, for the Enlightenment thinker, right and wrong ought to be the same for everyone. And any attempt to judge what is right and wrong must be grounded in reason, and backed up by rational arguments. For the anti-Enlightenment thinker, on the other hand, there is no absolute standard of right and wrong. Ethical rules and judgements may be different if looked at from the perspectives of different people. And so, in the extreme, anything goes; and might makes right.

In politics, the Enlightenment point of view is a bottom-up one. Societies exist for the benefit of the individuals in them. All individuals are naturally equal, in John Locke’s sense: “all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another.” Tolerance of difference, in religion and in other life choices, is a virtue. And every individual has natural rights and freedoms. In contrast, the anti-Enlightenment view is top-down. It puts Society and the state above the individual. It seeks to centralize power in an élite. It is often intolerant of difference. And it leads, in many cases, to a desire to impose an illiberal agenda on everyone.

This agenda, as I suggested earlier, can’t be classified as any single one of socialist, or communist, or fascist, or conservative. But it combines features of all of them. It is in part socialist or communist, in that it seeks to transform society and societies to accord with the desires of its promoters. Welfarism and hatred of the free market are two aspects of this. But the agenda also has elements of fascism, like warfarism and colluding with cronies. And it is conservative in its hatred of change and human progress, and its devotion to the out of date, failed political system we suffer under today.

In conclusion

So, here’s my best shot at diagnosing the political problems we human beings face today.

First, the nation state, which is currently the primary form of political society, has lost its cohesion. The forces which ought to bind together people in these societies – kinship, community, trade, leadership, religion, proximity, culture – have been weakened by bad politics, and particularly by the sham called democracy. Thus, the nation state has failed as a political system. And the internationalist and globalist schemes like the EU and the UN are, if anything, worse.

Second, many intellectuals and their followers, particularly in academe, the media, government and politics, have acquired a regressive philosophical outlook that rejects the liberal values of the 17th- and 18th-century Enlightenment. This way of thinking leads them to seek to impose on the people of the world an illiberal, totalitarian order that mixes elements of socialism, communism, fascism and conservatism.

How to fix these problems? That’s a matter for another day.


15 thoughts on “Political community and the Anti-Enlightenment

  1. What interests me in all this is what might be the imperative behind political change. I think Neil Lock is implying that it might be some sort of ‘will-to-freedom’, which I would agree does exist. We are, after all, individuals in the final analysis, but I think a rigorous understanding of things also requires an acknowledgement of human social organisation and why that might exist. People form into tribes and other interest groups, and to ignore that (as some classical liberals do these days) would leave us with an incomplete picture.

    If hierarchy is breaking down, does that mean hierarchy will be internalised and naturalised instead? So we reject externalised form of anarchy that are imposed on us (see Keir Martland’s recent speech on anarchic order in the Middle Ages) and instead recess back to forms of authority that are “asked for”.

    Do all ideologies and social system converge on a condition of anarchy? I’m thinking here of Walford’s systematic ideologies, but I am attempting to re-orient his ideas by suggesting not a hierarchy of ideologies (a sort of step ladder of consciousness, if you like), but rather a convergence on anarchy with differing particular characteristics.

    • Tom,

      Thanks for the reference to Walford; very helpful. What astonishes me is the sheer arrogance that socialists display when they seek to impose their agendas (using the state, which means by force if necessary) on people who are by nature non-political, or conservative, or liberal. Where do they, a self-confessed minority, get any right to do such things?

      Actually, it isn’t just socialists that do this. Virtually all the other agendas I list above (with the possible exceptions of true liberalism, conservatism and certain wings of anarchism, like anarcho-individualism and anarcho-capitalism) do the same. Greens and social engineers, at least, go even further than socialists. Perhaps this arrogant attitude towards others, and what they think and want, may be a key cause of our problems today?

      As to hierarchy, that’s a good question. If we can get to a set-up where there are no states, and people can join whatever societies they want, then individual societies may or may not have hierarchies. So I guess that, within that context, my answer to your question is yes. I’m not so sure about judgements about issues between people whose society memberships don’t overlap. It may be that some people will accept an authority that can do this, because it’s a benefit to them; while others reject it, and by doing so become ostracized by those who accept it (perhaps a bit like the old idea of “outlaws.”)

      • Yes, though to be absolutely fair about this, I think we would have to acknowledge that socialism in the Marxian and Pre-Marxian sense is not really about “imposing” a total worldview. Socialists believe in a democratic revolution, so a socialist world would result from a shift in consciousness rather than an attempt to impose a system against people’s general wishes. In other words, socialism can only be a system that people want, or it can’t work, and perhaps can’t even happen.

        I do accept, however, that some socialists think that they should force such a system on us, but I think it is, at the very least, debatable whether socialism could arise under such conditions – but that is one of the major debates among Marxists, neo-Marxists, and Fabian-type socialists. [Note: I am not advocating socialism here, just sharing with you a proper understanding of what it is, since I was once a Marxist, very early in life].

        In contrast, the shift in society from feudalism to capitalism was imposed. So we do now live under an imposed system, which resulted from (among other things) stripping ordinary people of their property rights – in effect, we are ruled over by thieves and the descendants of thieves. I suppose that’s where the state comes in – the architects of statism needed some sort of patina of legitimacy to conceal the criminal origins of their authority, which is what we call ‘law’. In short, it’s a giant confidence trick.

        I am inclined to agree with you that the way forward is to dismantle imposed authority. The issues, as I see it, are:

        (i). there is a paradox at work, in that to rid ourselves of unwanted hierarchy, we will have to take decisions that involve imposing our values on others, even if in an entirely negative and benign way;

        (ii). in any organised group of individuals, there will have to be some sort of shared/collective authority for decision-making concerning issues that affect everybody, even if it is just courts, and that means there will be an ever-present risk of a degeneration into statism, especially if private property rights are maintained; and,

        (iii). any new system has to accommodate the human tendency towards tribalism and nationalism.

        I think you have addressed all these in your writings. I’m satisfied. Not all the questions can be fully answered, because any system could slide into statism. For instance, I had envisaged a system without private property under something akin to libertarian communism. In other words, you are in possession of your home and land, etc., but there isn’t a property system as such, it being assumed that all labour and resources are shared. But under that sort of system, you would be reliant on a democratic mechanism for large-scale productive purposes and I think it is inevitable that a state-like system would evolve and decisions would be imposed on people. So I have now had to reject Marxism completely – and you’re the one who has converted me, congratulations.

        Where I am still struggling is in finding a way to ensure an equitable distribution of ownership. I quite like classical distributism as a resolution of this in principle, but it needs further investigation.

          • Neil,

            In view of all this, would you however agree with me that today’s classical liberals are wrong when they assert that societies can be run purely according to what amounts to convivial principles?

            • No, I don’t think they’re wrong. But such a society, with no rules over and above what Frank van Dun calls the laws of conviviality, I think would probably work only for certain types of people. For example, those who are more individualistic, independent and rational than the average. That’s why it’s important for people of all types to have the option to join and form whatever societies they want.

              • Would you therefore accept that the main fault line is between those, like myself, who believe that identity is inherited, ascribed and unchangeable, and those, like yourself, who believe that people can freely choose identities?

                • Tom, I don’t think it’s as simple as that. We are born as what we are born as. As I said in the essay, “Each of us is born with a particular combination of characteristics, of talents and disabilities, of strengths and weaknesses” and “it’s up to us, as individuals, to make the best we can of the hand we are dealt.” In that sense, we can’t change our identities. I, for example, can’t make myself six inches taller!

                  But we can, if we choose to, make ourselves into something that we might not have expected to be earlier in our careers. When I was studying mathematics at university, I certainly never expected to end up writing a novel and a book of philosophy! And that can apply to what societies we want to be part of, too. Many immigrants to the US from places like Germany, for example, gave up their old national identities and became Americans. Some people will want to change their identities in this sense; perhaps moving to a different country, perhaps becoming cosmopolitans. And others won’t. My concern is to give everyone the maximum freedom to change themselves, or not to change, as they please.

                  • Of course, we do need to simplify things to an extent in order to have a meaningful discussion. We can’t discuss six billion people as individuals. We have to aggregate human characteristics and circumstances.

                    I think we are in fundamental disagreement. I do accept the case that people should be allowed to live as individuals and not be told how to live their lives, however at the same time we can’t ignore the realities of how societies work. You might then say, ‘We don’t need a society’ or ‘I don’t like the word ‘community’, but I refer merely to any form of social organisation. If a few people co-operate together on some basis, they are a society. At some point, the co-operation may have to extend into areas of shared interest where decisions have to be taken. You then have a political community, which means you have politics. I see this as a natural process, if not axiomatic. The alternative seems to be that we all live in some extreme version of Daniel Boone. That would probably suit me personally, but do we think it would suit most people? I think we have to acknowledge the way people really are.

                    I doubt anybody would suggest that you should have a community made up of only tall people or only red-haired people or only people who are good at algebra. That’s because those characteristics on their own are not general factors in selection behaviour. Beyond the observation that women like tall men, there is also the fact that men and women will tend to socialise in groups that reflect their identities. If a bunch of people got together and decided to form a Tall Community, they would immediately run into the problem that some of their children would not be tall. What happens to those that do not meet this ascribed characteristic? Looking at this with cold objectivity, the question is not just sentimental, it is also of economic importance, since children represent a nascent resource. It therefore seems obvious that selection has evolved in a way that brings together people on the basis of inherently unifying characteristics: the most obvious is the familial and genetic. If I have a choice between trusting my father’s second cousin or trusting a complete stranger, then all things being equal, I am going to trust my father’s second cousin – which is why we have races and ethnies, characteristics that might indirectly produce communities made up only of tall, red-haired or mathematically-astute people.

                    Let’s address your national identity example, an ethnic German moving to North America. I am English. I could move to South Korea, settle there and in time (subject to local laws) take up citizenship of that country. I then become a civic Korean, but will I be an ethnic Korean at that point? Will my civic identity as a Korean be anything more than a piece of paper? Will I be fully accepted in the vernacular life of Korea? Maybe the test is to speculate reasonably about what might happen should I then move to a third country. Let’s say I then move to Japan. Would I be recognised culturally as a Korean or as an Englishman in that country? I think the answer is pretty obvious. I cannot acquire a Korean identity, as much as I would like to. I’m not Korean. I am not part of that extended family, but where the main difficulty arises is in the fact that I am a European, not a north-east Asian, so I have no biological attachment to the parent race group for that ethnicity. Had I been, say, Chinese or Japanese, possibly after very many years, ordinary Koreans might have come to accept me as a naturalised Korean.

                    The ethnic German immigrants to the Americas came from a country without a clear national identity. They were often Thuringians or Bavarians or Saxons rather than national Germans, but the main point about them is that they DID largely maintain their ethnic identities, just as the Ulster-Scots did and the English and Dutch Protestants did. Until at least the late 19th. century, America was a patchwork of different ethnic groups. Their American-ness was a civic identity that they adopted as a shared and unifying meta-ethnicity, intended to operate much like British identity (which it explicitly replaced at the foundation of the country). But what happened to this American meta-ethnicity when people from outside north-western Europe began immigrating to the United States in large numbers, from about the 1870s onward? I would say it began slowly to disintegrate, and in some parts of the United States it may now unravel into resurgent ethno-nationalism.

                    The lessons I take from this are that:

                    (i). it is possible to construct new civic identities, but these must be based on similarities in ethnic identities, so that there is a bond and a shared understanding. America worked for a long time because the different ‘countries’ that would federate into the United States came from closely-similar ethnic identities (different British and Irish ethnicities) or they were assimilable (i.e. Dutch, Scandinavian and German). This began to fall apart when that cohesion was lost;

                    (ii). we cannot just choose our identity, because much of what makes up our identity is inherited and ascribed based on fixed characteristics, which have arisen from human evolution;

                    (iii). communal identities should therefore be as broad as possible, but within firm limits.

                    I would respectfully suggest that the result is racial and ethnic identities. I will hold to these observations until somebody can provide me with an example of a successful non-ethnic community. Are there any practically working examples? I do accept that non-ethnic communities could be constructed by people determined to do so, but I suspect that after a couple of generations it would not be very pleasant. You can’t fight Nature for very long. What happens is that in any group, Nature ensures diversity.

                    So even among a group of high-IQ Cambridge-educated mathematicians who are all tall and red-headed, due to the complexities of polychromosomal genetics, etc., you would still end up with (among other things) the following:

                    some children would not be red headed;
                    many children would not be tall; and,
                    IQs would regress to the mean average, and many children would have average IQs (though low IQs would be rare).

  2. Tom,

    The root of our difference seems to be that you consider “the people of a particular ethnicity” or “the people of a particular race” to be a society, even in the absence of any specific agreement between them to be so; but I don’t.

    Yes, there would be “politics” within societies in my set-up. But the difference from today would be that, if you don’t like the politics in a society, you can leave that society without having to find, and move to, another one like it.

    If you’re a tall redhead, then you surely can join the Tall Redheads Society if you want. But for me, there’s no reason why your children, or anyone else, should have (or even want, if they’re not tall redheads) to join it; or why they would lose anything by being excluded from it.

    • I do not believe that a shared ethnicity is enough on its own to create a sustained society. People of a particular ethnicity (which is what I refer to) would need to have some sort of governing arrangements in place. In a ‘political’ society, that would be what we know as civic nationalism, which in its true form, arises from ethnic nationalism.

      What I have on my side here is that I can, at leisure, point out literally hundreds of examples of such societies that have worked successfully. I have to repeat my earlier question: Can you provide me with an example of a successful non-ethnic community that has been sustained over a lengthy period of time? I doubt you can, but let’s see what you can come up with.

      I base my views on how people really are, not on idealisations. Quite apart from that, I am not at all sure a non-ethnic (non-tribal) humanity would represent an improvement. I do agree with you that the state is part of the problem and needs to either be abolished or minimised, but this can be done in a way that is entirely consistent with tribalism (see my previous comments on here in relation to an anarchistic form of national-socialism; see also the writings of thinkers such as Troy Southgate and Roger Hicks). To my mind, expecting people to behave entirely in an individuated fashion does not speak of a rigorous understanding of human nature. It’s sort of like asking our higher primate cousins not to be carnivores and just eat vegetables from now on, simply to satisfy an idealistic moral and ethical principle. Chimpanzees, our nearest relatives, are possibly just intelligent enough to be trained along these lines, but would that be an improvement? We would be changing their fundamental nature.

      I believe healthy societies are built around human nature. You believe (or appear to believe) that humanity needs to advance beyond its essential nature. I don’t believe this is possible – at least, not without authoritarian measures – nor do see such an eventuality as desirable. Of course, this does not disprove your ideas. What it does mean, I believe, is that if we were to implement your ideas, then most of humanity (I accept not all) would revert back to tribalism and ethno-nationalism, but within anarchistic arrangements. Really, the difference between us here seems to be not so much whether your ideas about how an ideal society should operable are ‘right’ or workable, but what the outcome of that would be. You rest on individual choice and see this as post-racial, dismissing tribalism as archaic. I see that as too simplistic and point to human instincts and the tendency to form tribes and other systemic arrangements to support individual choices.

      Ethnies arise between people who have similar characteristics and interests. If we took a group of Cambridge mathematicians and they agreed to form a private law society dedicated to the worship of Achimedes, presumably they would arrange this society in such a way that only people they liked or they could ally with would be able to enter their land and join, and eventually this society would develop ethnic characteristics. Even if you try to separate the ‘biological’ from the ‘political’ (I don’t believe you can entirely, but for the moment, let’s suppose that you can), you would still end up with ethnic/national/tribal groups forming over the generations, as an outcome of human nature (natural selection at work, etc.). This is instinctive – it is basically an involuntary process driven by instinct – and can only be suppressed by authoritarian means. Therefore, my second question is how would your societies address this ‘problem’ of human tribalism and the ethnogenesis it manifests? It would be trite, I believe, simply to call in aid individual choice here. I grant there is individual choice at work, but it is not just that: the ‘choices’ are not completely voluntary but reflect instinct and the various exigencies of human nature.

      It is this underlying tribal nature of human beings that, I believe, Orwell was lamenting in his essay on nationalism (whether he understood this or not is unclear). You, too, are free to regard this aspect of human nature as a negative thing, as Orwell did. I don’t, I see it as a positive thing, but whatever the view taken, the simple fact is that you yourself, as a white British man, have been shaped by this human tendency towards nationalism. You will say that you are not just a white British man, you are other things. True, but that doesn’t alter the fact that you are a white British man and this is reflected in your life and what you do. If you had been born in certain parts of the world, you would be spending your time not on writing books and essays and other non-essential pursuits, but on the essential tasks of survival. Of course, you as an individual could choose to go and live a primitive tribal life in the southern Pacific or the Pantanal or somewhere much closer to home, but I think you would acknowledge there are strong reasons why you would not do so and that that would be an eccentric choice. There must be reasons for this radical cultural difference that we can identify and explain. I would submit that a major reason is the genetic quality of different populations: i.e. different types of people produce different cultures. In a way, that is exactly your own point, but where we differ is that I believe this has to be biological, and therefore ‘nationalism’ (in the evolutionary and biological sense) is involuntary to some extent: simple observation tells us that this is the case.

      • Tom,

        People of a particular ethnicity (which is what I refer to) would need to have some sort of governing arrangements in place.

        I agree. That’s why I talk in other essays about laws of conviviality, areas of good governance and so forth.

        Can you provide me with an example of a successful non-ethnic community that has been sustained over a lengthy period of time?

        If by “non-ethnic” you mean consisting of two or more ethnic groups, why not try Switzerland? I assume you’ll concede that French and Germans are different ethnicities. (If they’re the same, why have they fought each other so many times?) Not to mention Italians. Or, perhaps, the USA during the period of its greatest expansion, when it was a “melting pot” of cultures?

        It’s harder to find examples of successful communities including races of different skin colours, but the British empire might well have qualified, for a while. George VI certainly thought of the people of the empire as a community – he called them “my peoples.”

        … expecting people to behave entirely in an individuated fashion does not speak of a rigorous understanding of human nature.

        As I said in the headpost, “Human beings are individuals. That’s a biological fact. Each of us has our own body and our own mind. And yet, we are social too.” It is in our nature to be individual, as well as social.

        As to your example of Cambridge mathematicians forming an Archimedean society, let’s consider an international group of libertarians who succeed in founding a community outside all states. (All such attempts I know of so far have, of course, foundered because states are ruthless and will attack any such community they think is on “their” land). They would be ethically homogeneous long before they became ethnically homogeneous (pun intended). And it would take many generations before racial differences were bred out.

        You will say that you are not just a white British man, you are other things.

        Ethically and politically, I’m a human being. Culturally, I’m a white Englishman (or, more accurately, a pink Englishman). Patriotically, I’m a Wessex man. For me, “Britain” is an island, and no more; and the political state commonly called “Britain” has no validity.


        If you had been born in certain parts of the world, you would be spending your time not on writing books and essays and other non-essential pursuits, but on the essential tasks of survival.

        You’re right there, Tom! But it does rather depend on what you mean by “essential.” I think doing what we can to help people out of the mire their local élites are trying to drown them in is essential; don’t you agree? That’s why education in free markets, rights and liberty is so important.

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