Sean Gabb Turns Sixty

by Keir Martland

Over the next few days, there shall follow a short series of articles extolling the virtues of Dr Sean Gabb. A lengthier series could be devoted to his manifold sins and naughtiness. Since Sean is so secretive about his actual birthday, I have decided to start this series some distance from the date itself. The first instalment is by yours truly.

How to begin? Well, if the term means anything, Sean Gabb has been my ‘best friend’ for more years than is medically recommended. Not only can I be sure we are always on the same page politically-speaking, but we also share many of the same social and cultural prejudices, and a common black sense of humour, not to mention cynicism by the bucketload. This is no small feat for both of us since he is without question an Enlightenment man – a Millian liberal, a religious sceptic, a believer in scientific Progress – and I am a Counter-Enlightenment Catholic. For all this, somehow our outlooks often represent two sides of the same coin. Read more

Statism and Judicial Activism

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

How to Deal with Jeremy Corbyn

How to Deal with Jeremy Corbyn
Sean Gabb
(Published in
The Libertarian Enterprise  on the 3rd November 2019)

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The Conservatives made two big mistakes in 2017. The first was noticed at once and will not be repeated. This was having Theresa May as their leader and her friends in charge of the campaign. Its effect was similar to pushing a wax effigy about on wheels and stopping it every so often to play pre-recorded and usually malevolent platitudes. Boris Johnson is an undoubted human being, and he knows how to say what people want to hear. Read more

For the Conservatives

How to Deal with Jeremy Corbyn
Sean Gabb
(Published in The Commentator on the 2nd November 2019)

The Conservatives made two big mistakes in 2017. The first was noticed at once and will not be repeated. This was having Theresa May as their leader and her friends in charge of the campaign. Its effect was similar to pushing a wax effigy about on wheels and stopping it every so often to play pre-recorded and usually malevolent platitudes. Boris Johnson is an undoubted human being, and he knows how to say what people want to hear.

There is a chance that the second mistake will be repeated. This was not noticed at the time, and may still not be apparent. It was, and may be, the belief that Jeremy Corbyn’s success in the polls has been a function of Conservative weakness. The standard claim among Conservatives is that he loved the IRA, that he hates Jews, and that his main aim is to make England into a socialist hell – and that no one who is made aware of this could possibly support him.

There may be some truth in these three claims. Indeed, hope that the second is true explains much of his support in the Islamised areas of the country. The important truth, however, is that, while his friends would use his time in office to complete their cultural and political degradation of the country, the main grounds of Mr Corbyn’s popularity are that he detests an Establishment and a general structure of governance that hardly anyone outside the circle of beneficiaries – and probably not the average Conservative voter – still supports.

Jeremy Corbyn is a republican. Well, Elizabeth II has been the most useless monarch in our history, and her progeny are embarrassing trash. I have not been required to swear loyalty to her since I was a boy. I doubt I could now without imagining two fingers crossed behind my back. He believes in abolishing the House of Lords and disestablishing the Church. The first has become a waste of political space. The second is a joke. He is anti-American – and you tell me one effect of this alliance, at least since 1990, that has been unambiguously in British interests and has not produced a cataract of foreign blood. He is a socialist who wants to load the rich with taxes and abolish private education.

Speaking for myself, I am against these last. Even the markets we have are better than pure state control, and the right to educate our children as we please and can afford is fundamental. At the same time, he has an arguable case. Hardly anyone gets seriously rich in this country by hard work in a free enterprise system. Wealth is mostly an effect of getting the right connections in a set of interlocking scams on our savings and our tax money. The private education most called to mind when people hear the words are the great public schools. These are no longer Spartan places where boys have their bodies shaped by team sports and their minds by Greek syntax – where an élite is formed capable of transforming the sciences and conquering and ruling a great empire. They are finishing schools for the children of the merely rich – places where an insulated plutocracy reproduces itself across the generations.

As for his promises on tax and spending, there is no chance of raising the tax burden above the present 40 per cent of GDP. All Mr Corbyn promises is that more of the money will come back to the taxpayers in liveable benefits and useful services. I remember the 1970s. They were hardly a Land of Lost Content. But a bus driver could buy a terraced house in London while his wife stayed at home to look after three children. Again speaking for myself, I could go swimming for one-third the price of a Mars Bar. I could take a bus from one side to the other of London for about the same. I could find the works of Hayek in my small local library, and it was there that I found the texts for learning Latin and Greek. When I went to university, I had my tuition fees paid, and I had a student grant that left me with a small surplus when I graduated. All this, and the tax burden was about the same as now. Ditto the deficit as a fraction of GDP.

There may be reasons why this world has passed away and cannot be brought back. But I can understand why people of all ages listen to promises to bring something like it back. We can denounce these promises all we like as Venezuela plus social workers. That is what the promises may bring. But they are attractive promises. The second mistake the Conservatives made in 2017 was not to see that there was, in the public mind, a positive case for Jeremy Corbyn. There still is in 2019. Ignoring this can and will throw the election.

If asked, my advice to the Conservatives would be to treat Mr Corbyn with almost ceremonious respect. He is, after all, an honest man. I met him once, and I found him personally agreeable – far more so than the usual lying slime who make their way in politics. The best strategy for keeping the Labour vote where it now stands is to make a strong distinction between him and the Labour Party as a whole. It is to paint him as the well-meaning but useful-idiot front man for the actual ruling class, and to concentrate all fire on that ruling class.

In modern England, the ruling class is not the Queen, or a few hundred life peers, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, or any of the Usual Suspects. There are no longer any Forces of Conservatism. The actual ruling class is a coalition of politicians, educators, administrators, lawyers and law-enforcers, and associated businessmen, who derive wealth and power and status from a state enlarged beyond any reasonable size. Their legitimising ideology is cultural leftism – this being, in the formal sense, a development from various of the Neo-Marxist philosophers of the early and middle twentieth century, but from which anything socialist in the traditional sense of the word has been carefully drained. It is an ideology that justifies its believers in drawing public salaries twenty or fifty times more than the minimum wage. So long as he gives them time off to attend gay weddings, and bans them from smoking at least during work hours, and so long as he sacks them for voicing disapproved opinions, it justifies businessmen in paying their workers less in gold terms than Henry Ford ever did.

These are the ruling class, and their intellectuals are the Blairites who took over the Labour Party after 1987. Though threatened by Mr Corbyn between 2015 and 2017, they appear to have taken it over again. Here is the significance of Brexit. There is a good free market case for leaving the European Union. It is an organisation that traps its member states in a regulatory system of low growth. But it is not socialist. It is instead a coalition of ruling classes broadly similar to our own. By handing formal power to a set of supranational institutions, it makes these ruling classes unaccountable. They are unaccountable if their subjects want freer markets, and if their subjects do not want cultural leftism. They are also unaccountable if their subjects want socialism. I could go into detail on this point, but will not. It is enough to say that, since the 1990s, directive after directive has been passed by majority vote in Brussels that privilege corporate interests above the alleged rights of workers. These directives can only be repealed by unanimous vote. Socialism in one member state can only be brought about if socialists can win in all member states.

Jeremy Corbyn has always known this. Membership of the European Union makes the core of his economic programme illegal. He cannot renationalise the railways or the Royal Mail. He cannot subsidise the re-industrialisation of the North. He cannot protect favoured sectors. He cannot stop a flight of capital. He cannot efficiently tax the profits of the multinational corporations. Yet he is now fronting a set of devices in the Labour Party for preventing our departure from the European Union. He is praising judges whose plain agenda is to stop us from leaving – and who would use their enhanced powers to undo any radical Acts of Parliament he might be able to pass. Why he has been so neutered since 2017 is irrelevant. What matters is that he has been neutered. None of his more attractive promises will be kept, because none can be kept. However many inspirational speeches he gives, to however large and enraptured audiences, his place in this election is to act as the front man for a Blairite restoration.

Here is a suggested poster for the Conservatives. It is in the style of Socialist Realism. In the bottom centre-left is Jeremy Corbyn as a small marionette. He is speaking to a crowd on his left of all ages, colours and classes. The words “Peace,” “Jobs,” “Dignity,” “Equality” come from his lips. Behind him to the right, the strings are pulled by a larger Keir Starmer. Behind him, his strings are pulled by a larger and grinning Tony Blair and Jean-Claude Juncker. Behind them stands a crowd of anonymous men in fine suits. This, or something like it, should see off the scandalous claim that Labour is running an anti-Establishment campaign.

Though it has not yet started, everything else in the Conservative campaign looks promising. It seems resolutely One Nation in its domestic focus. The rejection of a pact with the Brexit Party also seems to be good politics. Because of Donald Trump’s intervention on its behalf, the refusal looks vaguely anti-American. Its vote will probably collapse. Brexit may be painted as unfinished business, and the Johnson Agreement as a fair middle way between the extremes. A few tax and spending cuts would be nice, but may not at the moment be good politics. Promising a bonfire of regulations may be better politics, and they would produce similar benefits. Because they have not armed themselves with the relevant analysis, the Conservatives should probably avoid promising an explicit attack on the actual ruling class – though some reference to that class in the context of Brexit would be desirable, and may be made. But the main point of my present advice is to deal with Jeremy Corbyn, and I think I have said enough.



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

How Democracy Made Us Dumb

By ilana mercer

From the riffs of outrage coming from the Democrats and their demos over “our democracy” betrayed, infiltrated even destroyed—you’d never know that a rich vein of thinking in opposition to democracy runs through Western intellectual thought, and that those familiar with it would be tempted to say “good riddance.”

Voicing opposition to democracy is just not done in politically polite circles, conservative and liberal alike.

For this reason, the Mises Institute’s Circle in Seattle, an annual gathering, represented a break from the pack.

The Mises Institute is the foremost think tank working to advance free-market economics from the perspective of the Austrian School of Economics. It is devoted to peace, prosperity, and private property, implicit in which is the demotion of raw democracy, the state, and its welfare-warfare machine.

This year, amid presentations that explained “Why American Democracy Fails,” it fell to me to speak to “How Democracy Made Us Dumb.” (Oh yes! Reality on the ground was not candy-coated.)

Some of the wide-ranging observations I made about the dumbing down inherent in democracy were drawn from the Founding Fathers and the ancients.

A tenet of the American democracy is to deify youth and diminish adults. To counter that, I’ll start with the ancients.

The Athenian philosophers disdained democracy. Deeply so. They held that democracy “distrusts ability and has a reverence for numbers over knowledge.” (Will Durant, “The Story of Philosophy,” New York, New York, 1961, p. 10.)

Certainly, among the ancients who mattered, there was a keen contempt for “a mob-led, passion-ridden democracy.” The complaint among Athenians who occupied themselves with thinking and debating was that “there would be chaos where there is no thought,” and that “it was a base superstition that numbers give wisdom. On the contrary, it is universally seen that men in crowds are more foolish, violent and cruel than men separate and alone.” (p. 11)

Underground already then, because so subversive—anti-democratic thinking was the aristocratic gospel in Athens. Socrates (born in 470 B.C.) was the intellectual leader against democracy and for the even-then hated aristocratic philosophy. Socrates’ acolytes, young and brilliant, questioned the “specious replacement of the old virtues by unsocial intelligence.”

The proof of the foolish, violent and cruel nature of the crowds is that the crowds, not the judges, insisted on making Socrates the first martyr of philosophy. He drank the poison at the behest of the people.

No wonder Plato, Socrates’ most gifted student, harbored such scorn for democracy and hatred for the mob—so extreme that it led this controversial genius to resolve that democracy must be destroyed, to be replaced by his planned society; “the rule of the wisest and the best, who would have to be discovered and enabled.”

Plato’s “Republic,” seconds the Economist, “is haunted by the fear that democracies eventually degenerate into tyrannies” (June 22, 2019). To libertarians, Plato of the planned society was wrong. However, the fear reverberating throughout his “Republic” is righteous.

A democratic utopia of freedom cannot come about because of the nature of man, thought Plato. Men “soon tire of what they have, pine for what they have not, and seldom desire anything unless it belongs to others. The result is the encroachment of one group upon the territory of another.” (“The Story of Philosophy,” p. 19.)

Plato agreed, that “the diversity of democracy’s characters … make it look very attractive.” However, “these citizens are so consumed by pleasure-seeking that they beggar the economy”; so hostile to authority that they ignore the advice of sages, and so solipsistic and libertine that they lose any common purpose.

Most agreeable to libertarian thinking was Aristotle, who ventured that democracy is based on a false assumption of equality. It arises out of the notion that “those who are equal in one respect (under the law) are equal in all respects. Because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal.” (P. 70)

Tocqueville, too, was not sold on the new American democracy. He conducted “his extensive investigation into American life, and was prepared to pronounce with authority [about what he termed the new democracy].” (Russell Kirk, “The Conservative Mind,” Washington D.C., 1985, 205-224)

The American elite, Tocqueville observed, does not form an aristocracy that cherishes individuality, but a bureaucratic elite which exacts rigid conformity, a monotonous equality, shared by the managers of society.” (p. 218) Remarking on “the standardization of character in America,” Tocqueville described it as “a sort of family likeness” that makes for monotony. (p. 210)

What menaces democratic society … [is] a tyranny of mediocrity, a standardization of mind and spirit and condition …  The mass of people will not rest until the state is reorganized to furnish them with material gratification.”

“Pure democracy makes libertarian democracy impossible,” posited Tocqueville. (p. 213) “In America, the majority raises formidable barriers around the liberty of opinion; within certain barriers, an author may write what he pleases, but woe to him if he goes beyond them … his political career is then over, since he has offended the only authority able to defend it. … Before making public his opinions, he thought he had sympathizers, now it seems to him he has none any more, since he revealed himself to everyone; then those who blame him criticize loudly, and those who think as he does keep quiet and move away without courage. He yields at length, overcome by the daily effort, which he has to make, and subsides into silence, as if he felt remorse for having spoken the truth.” (p. 218)

Consider that Tocqueville was writing at a time so much smarter than our own.

Tocqueville in the 19th century, and Solzhenitsyn in the 20th, noted that conformity of thought is powerfully prevalent among Americans.

This column, now in its 20th year, can attest that writing in the Age of the Idiot is about striking the right balance of banality and mediocrity, both in style and thought, which invariably entails echoing one of two party lines and positions, poorly.

Let us not forget Friendrich Nietzsche (admired by H. L. Mencken, whose genius would have remained unrecognized had he been plying his craft in 2019).

Born 39 years after Tocqueville, Nietzsche saw nothing good in democracy. “It means the worship of mediocrity, and the hatred of excellence. … What is hated by the people, as a wolf by the dogs, is the free spirit, the enemy of all fetters, the not-adorer, the man who is not a regular party-member. … How can a nation become great when its greatest men lie unused, discouraged, perhaps unknown … Such a society loses character; imitation is horizontal instead of vertical—not the superior man but the majority man becomes the ideal and the model; everybody comes to resemble everybody else; even the sexes approximate—the men become women and the women become men.” (“The Story of Philosophy,” p. 324.)

For their part, America’s founders had attempted to forestall raw democracy by devising a republic.

In his magisterial “Introduction to the Constitutional Principles of American Government,” constitutional scholar James McClellan noted that universal suffrage and mass democracy were alien to the Founders: “They believed that a democracy would tend toward mediocrity and tyranny of the majority.” Writing about the first state constitutions (penned between 1776-1783), McClellan attests that, “A complete democracy on a wide scale was widely regarded throughout the colonies as a threat to law and order.”

Why, Pennsylvania became the laughingstock in the colonies when it “abolished all property qualifications for voting and holding office. This confirmed the suspicions of many colonial leaders that an unrestrained democracy could drive good men out of public office and turn the affairs of state over to pettifoggers, bunglers, and demagogues.” A conga-line of those you witnessed at the CNN/New York Times Democratic debate, the other day.

“The Founders wanted representation of brains, not bodies,” observed McClellan, noting that, at least “for a number of years, the best minds in the country dominated American politics.” No more.


Watch ilana mercer’s entire address, “How Democracy Made Us Dumb,” on YouTube.

Brexit and the Democratic Deficit (2019), by Sean Gabb — SEAN GABB

Brexit and the Democratic Deficit Sean Gabb (Published in The Commentator on the 20th October 2019) One of the more fatuous, though effective, claims of the Leaver side in the Brexit Referendum was that we should “Take back control.” The assumption behind this was that Britain before 1973 was somehow more of a democracy than…

via Brexit and the Democratic Deficit (2019), by Sean Gabb — SEAN GABB

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