Thursday, June 3, 2010

Liberals, Tories and liberty

From the preface (by Albert Jay Nock) to Herbert Spencer’s The Man Versus the State:
Spencer ends The New Toryism with a prediction which American readers today will find most interesting, if they bear in mind that it was written [ninety five] years ago in England and primarily for English readers. He says:
The laws made by Liberals are so greatly increasing the compulsions and restraints exercised over citizens, that among Conservatives who suffer from this aggressiveness there is growing up a tendency to resist it. Proof is furnished by the fact that the “Liberty and Property Defense League”, largely consisting of Conservatives, has taken for its motto “Individualism versus Socialism”. So that if the present drift of things continues, it may by-and-by really happen that the Tories will be defenders of liberties which the Liberals, in pursuit of what they think popular welfare, trample under foot.
This prophecy has already been fulfilled in the United States.

And earlier:
Spencer shows that the early Liberal was consistently for cutting down the State's coercive power over the citizen, wherever this was possible. He was for reducing to a minimum the number of points at which the State might make coercive interventions upon the individual. He was for steadily enlarging the margin of existence within which the citizen might pursue and regulate his own activities as he saw fit, free of State control or State supervision. Liberal policies and measures, as originally conceived, were such as reflected these aims. The Tory, on the other hand, was opposed to these aims, and his policies reflected this opposition.
        In general terms, the Liberal was consistently inclined towards the individualist philosophy of society, while the Tory was consistently inclined towards the Statist philosophy.
        Spencer shows moreover that as a matter of practical policy, the early Liberal proceeded towards the realization of his aims by the method of repeal. He was not for making new laws, but for repealing old ones. It is most important to remember this. Wherever the Liberal saw a law which enhanced the State's coercive power over the citizen, he was for repealing it and leaving its place blank. There were many such laws on the British statute-books, and when Liberalism came into power it repealed an immense grist of them.
        Spencer must be left to describe in his own words, as he does in the course of this essay, how in the latter half of the [19th] century British Liberalism went over bodily to the philosophy of Statism, and abjuring the political method of repealing existent coercive measures, proceeded to outdo the Tories in constructing new coercive measures of ever-increasing particularity.
        This piece of British political history has great value for American readers, because it enables them to see how closely American Liberalism has followed the same course. It enables them to interpret correctly the significance of Liberalism's influence upon the direction of our public life in the last half-century, and to perceive just what it is to which that influence has led, just what the consequences are which that influence has tended to bring about, and just what are the further consequences which may be expected to ensue.
Now, the bit about repealing earlier-existing laws vs. creating new laws is interesting to me. In the earlier post called “Evolution of Liberal Reform”, I earlier quoted Arbat (translated from Russian):
All starts with the leftists finding a “Problem”. Oftentimes the Problem is not really a problem. For instance they think that asset inequality is a problem. Even though it is the main stimulus for the economy’s development. To call it a problem is similar to calling voltage difference in the electric grid a problem that needs to be corrected as soon as possible, so that there is no difference in electric potentials at all. [For those less physically inclined, replace electric grid with a ski resort and the voltage difference with the height difference between the top and the bottom of the hill.]

Having identified the Problem, leftists propose a Plan. Oftentimes the Plan involves people giving up some kind of freedom and the government, in turn, forbidding the Problem away. As a rule, the freedom is indeed taken away. It’s the only part that goes according to the Plan. The original “Problem” remains the same, but in addition to it arise a number of “unforeseen side effects”. Which are of course presented as the next set of “Problems”, which are treated with new Plans (instead of getting rid of the original plan, which caused the problems in the first place), and so on.

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