…and What it Must Do
By Duncan Whitmore
Anyone who has taken the time to study in depth the wealth of scholarly literature of Austro-libertarianism cannot help but be enthralled by the intellectual treasures provided by our school of thought. Not only have we uncovered a body of knowledge which – especially in comparison to mainstream social science – is rigorous, scientific, coherent and interdisciplinary, but, as the true successors of classical liberalism, we have an inspiring vision of the future that can sweep away war, conflict, strife and poverty while propelling the human race to unheard of heights of peace and prosperity. Indeed, for many of us Austro-libertarianism has been the most joyous and rewarding discovery of our lives, providing a sheltered harbour in a world which would otherwise leave us adrift in a sea of chaos.
Unfortunately, we are forced to admit that the intellectual accomplishments of Austro-libertarians are disproportionate to our achievements in effecting real world change which, by comparison, are almost miniscule. Although most forms of direct socialism have been discredited by the disaster that was the Soviet Union, we are today living in a world of unprecedented state power which the majority of the population, buoyed by a sense of control instilled by their occasional visits to the ballot box, views as entirely legitimate. It is bad enough that the modern nation state has accreted to itself power and functions that ancient kings and emperors could only dream of; but we are confronted also by a pervasive attitude that any difficulty, problem, error, injustice or whatever that life may choose to throw at us – including our own personal foibles and failings – is always the state’s responsibility to solve. The problems of paper money, the welfare state, boom and bust, public “education”, crippling regulation, disastrous overseas wars and all of the other ills bred by the state are not going to be vanquished when the majority of the public regards this institution as the magic carpet that will whisk us all away to the land of milk and honey. Read more
Leave, Actually – What the Election Means
By Duncan Whitmore
“Tidings of Comfort of Joy” – so heralded the front page of The Daily Telegraph during their vision of Boris Johnson’s election victory descending from heaven with a chorus of angels. Certainly the magnitude of Johnson’s achievement is difficult to overstate. Not only has he propelled the Conservatives to an impressive parliamentary majority by robbing Labour of seats in its traditional working class heartlands; he has also, in a few short months, purged the Tories of their wrangling over Europe which has plagued each of their party leaders since Margaret Thatcher. For libertarians, however, while the result of last Thursday’s poll brings much comfort, the joy may have to be put on ice for a while.
There is comfort in the fact that, for the third election in a row – two general, one European – the British people have reaffirmed their 2016 decision to leave the European Union. No longer can dyed-in-the-wool Remainers claim that the electorate did not know what they were voting for, given that the precise form of Brexit was there for all to see in the text of Johnson’s withdrawal agreement. In the end, the possible split of the Leave vote between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party failed to materialise. Instead, as Nigel Farage intended, his party contributed to the fall of Labour in working class constituencies while the Tory vote remained intact. In some of the most surprising Tory victories – for example, in Durham Northwest, Blyth Valley, Bassetlaw, Bishop Auckland and Bolsover (where Dennis Skinner was unseated after nearly fifty years) – the spoils from Labour losses were parcelled out between the Brexit Party and the Tories, allowing the latter to accomplish anything between narrow and landslide victories over Labour. Although, according to Wednesday’s Times, some studies have claimed that the Brexit Party actually deprived the Conservatives of around twenty further seats, this is no bad thing. For in spite of gaining only 2% of the vote nationally and no seats, Farage’s combination of help and hindrance to the Tories has paid off by decimating the prospect of any parliamentary “Remainer” alliance while also neutering Conservative complacency. Of course, the precise unfolding of Brexit – i.e. the final form of Johnson’s withdrawal agreement and the eventual results of negotiations over the trade deal – remains to be seen. But the prospect of a second referendum leading to the outright cancellation of the decision to leave has finally been buried. Read more
Statism and Judicial Activism
By Duncan Whitmore
In a previous essay concerning the Supreme Court’s judgment against Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue Parliament1, we noted that several commentators had criticised the judgment for its “political” nature, calling for greater scrutiny of the judiciary and the judicial appointments process.
It will be argued here that castigating the case as the moment when the judges crossed over from law to politics is wide of the mark, and that a politicised judiciary is a necessary and unavoidable outcome of the growth of democratic statism. As we shall see, this is a trend which Britain has endured for around a hundred years (with an acute acceleration in the post-war era). Consequently, the only way to ensure a relatively impartial, apolitical judiciary is to roll back the size and scope of the state.
The Judiciary in Political Theory
The state’s power of adjudication receives relatively little attention in everyday political discourse. Nearly all of the headlines are attracted by what the executive and the legislative spheres of the state – Presidents, Prime Ministers, parliaments, and so on – are up to rather than the wigged magistrates presiding over dark, dusty courtrooms.
One reason for this is that the non-judicial state institutions have a greater scope to act unilaterally. The government can announce initiatives and Parliament can enact laws without the need for any outside stimulus. The courts, on the other hand, are in the position of having to wait for a case to come before them, i.e. for people to find themselves in an active conflict with other people. The direct outcome of such a case may impact upon only a handful of participants and, even if the principles under scrutiny are far reaching, the judges may rule only on a single specific point at any one time. Moreover, the prevalence of democracy focuses discussion of your political rights on your ability to vote in elections which, in most cases, is not the method of selection for the judiciary. Participation as a jury member is, to be sure, viewed as a civic duty also, but this may occur only a handful times during a person’s life, and direct involvement in a court case as one of the litigants is even less likely. Thus, the perception that the judiciary has a relatively diminished ability to touch everyone’s lives has lent them a degree of remoteness compared to other organs of the state. Read more
By Duncan Whitmore
The pervasive issue of human-induced climate change has been hotting up again lately. The recent birth of “Extinction Rebellion”, which pursues the strategy of civil disobedience and economic disruption in order to force governments to “act” on climate change, as well as the creation of a mascot in the form of teenage activist Greta Thunberg, has helped to drive the once fledgling issue back to the forefront of political attention. A “Global Climate Strike” held on September 20th saw children – many of whom have been terrified into the belief that their world is about incinerate – allowed to take the day off from school in order to participate (an unlikely occurrence had they wished to protest against, say, mass immigration). Although Britain has emerged from what has actually been a fairly standard summer in terms of temperature, a handful of record breaking days helped to push climate fear to a high of 85% of the UK population, according to a recent poll.
Fortunately, the latest antics of “Extinction Rebellion” – which have included targeting ordinary East London commuters on their way to work – betray one of the reasons why Murray Rothbard split from his alliance with the left in the early 1970s: that you don’t win any support by attacking, with violent disruption, the very people whose hearts and minds you are trying to convert.1 The fact that these incidents targeted the London Underground and Docklands Light Railway only added to their irredeemable stupidity given that most people accept electrified public transport as a sufficiently green alternative to cars. Nevertheless, the issue itself is a lingering one and government policies committed to tackling climate change remain prominent. Read more
“A Judicial Jamboree” – Boris and the Supreme Court
By Duncan Whitmore
Last week’s judgment of the Supreme Court (“Miller/Cherry”1) that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was unlawful has been greeted as a “triumph” of democracy on the Remain side but, conversely, as an unwarranted judicial wading into politics on the Leave side – together with calls for the scrutiny of judicial appointments akin to what is seen with the US Supreme Court.
It will be argued here that, while undoubtedly significant, the court’s judgment to review the government’s decision for prorogation (and its disagreement with that decision) was not the most extraordinary aspect of the case. As we shall go on see in detail, the case is really an outcome of a continuing, decades-long attempt to squeeze historic, pre-democratic elements of Britain’s constitution into a democratic straitjacket.
What is astounding, on the other hand, is that the robustness and confidence of the decision represents a continuation of the same theme we identified in a previous essay on Brexit and the British Constitution – that the pro-Remain establishment, instead of simply cutting its losses and swallowing Brexit, is blind to the fact that its efforts to thwart the referendum result is jeopardising everything that legitimises (in the eye of the public) the sustenance of the British state. As Sean Gabb has said in his own post on the matter, “all that surprises me is that the Remainers are so committed to stopping Brexit that there is no part of the Constitution they are not prepared to feed into their political shredding machine.” Surely they must have realised the Supreme Court’s decision, delivered without a single dissenting voice among eleven justices in spite of convincing counterarguments, would brazenly and wantonly take a sledge hammer to yet another veneer of legitimacy over the state system that keeps them in power – the notion of an independent and apolitical judiciary? Read more
Brexit and the British State
By Duncan Whitmore
Following the drama of the past two weeks which culminated in the embarrassing behaviour of opposition MPs blocking the Speaker’s chair in the moments of Parliament’s prorogation (pictured above), we can hope for some dying down of the recent hysteria now that they have been royally booted out for a month. At least, that is, until October 19th, when Boris Johnson must either pull a new Brexit deal with the EU out of his hat or ask for an extension to the October 31st deadline.
In the meantime, we can enjoy the comedy value of the Labour Party trying to square the circle with its Brexit policy. Trapped between a rock and a hard place by its support coming from both working class Leave voters on the one hand and middle class, liberal Remainers on the other, their aspiration is to negotiate a new deal with Brussels in order to show their Leave credentials. But they will then call a second referendum in which they will campaign against their own deal in favour of Remain. Such absurdity has driven even Remain-biased journalists to barely concealed sniggering. On Wednesday of this week, deputy leader Tom Watson chimed in by suggesting that Labour should campaign for a second referendum ahead of voting for an Autumn general election (the conditions for which Labour has already shifted several times since they backed the Brexit delay bill last week). Given that Labour is the official opposition and, by far, the second largest party in Parliament, whatever it chooses to do is likely to carry more weight than whatever the likes of Little Bo-Swinson and the disproportionately mega-mouthed Ian Blackford have to offer. So, amidst the hyperbolic outrage at the Scottish Court of Session’s finding that the prorogation of Parliament was “unlawful” (strange how there were no screaming headlines when the first instance judges drew the opposite conclusion) as well as at the release of the worst case scenario no-deal planning documents this will probably be the only thing to keep much of an eye on for now. Read more
Boris and Brexit
By Duncan Whitmore
At the time of writing, a bill to delay Britain’s exit from the European Union beyond the October 31st deadline is making its way through the House of Lords, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s loss of all of his votes thus far in the Commons. Johnson has also lost his Commons majority after one MP defected to the Liberal Democrats on Tuesday while a further twenty-one were denied the Tory whip for voting against the government that same evening. It is, therefore, probable that the bill will be passed and, without the ability to call a general election, somebody will be carted off to the EU to grovel for a Brexit extension until January 31st.
Nevertheless, in contrast to the Maybot (whose repeated defeats ground her down into the appearance of an exhumed corpse), Johnson remains remarkably upbeat. If his chief strategist, Dominic Cummings, is as brilliant as he is reputed to be, then this may be no surprise. After all, every major obstacle to achieving Brexit, “do or die”, on October 31st was known in advance, namely:
- An overwhelmingly pro-Remain Parliament which could be expected to use the excuse of an alleged no deal “catastrophe” to tie the Prime Minister’s negotiating hands;
- The existence of a significant number of rebellious Tory MPs amongst a Parliamentary majority of just one;
- A Speaker barely able to feign impartiality through a willingness to bend constitutional propriety and parliamentary procedure.