Counting Cats in Zanzibar Rotating Header Image

February 6th, 2013:

Liberalism and Nationalism – a fatal 19th century alliance?

Libertarians sometimes say that we are really “classical liberals”, “19th century liberals”.

Of course if I actually found myself in Victorian Kettering my political opinions (against the establishment of a School Board, anti prohibition of booze, hostile to land nationalisation or even taxation…….) would mark me as a “Conservative” indeed an “arch Conservative” or a “blackhearted reactionary Conservative” (which, of course, is exactly what I am).

But let us leave aside these irritating “fact” things, and go off into generalities…..

There was a  strain of 19th century liberalism that was pro freedom (even if I can not find much evidence that it ever existed in Kettering – centre of the universe). Indeed “Liberalism” was the international movement that declared itself pro freedom – dedicated to reducing the size and scope of government.

In Britain such things as 1835 Muncipal Reform Act were intended to sweep away the corrupt Tory dominated closed corporations and lower the rates (the property taxes). Of course the actual result (in Manchester and virtually everywhere else) is that the rates went UP – but the intention was good. And, indeed, such Liberal party leaders as Gladstone really did work to reduce government spending and taxes – and with some success (at least till 1874). And some Conservative party leaders (such as Disraeli) were vile statist ………

However, the major liberal thinkers in Britain in the 19th century (at least the mid to late 19th century) present a confused picture. The thought of people such as J.S. Mill and Walter Bagehot (and so on) seems pro freedom when one first glances at it – but the more one examines it in detail the less pro freedom (pro driving back the size and scope of the state) it is.

But it would take an essay (or book) to show fully what I mean…………………………………………………………..

In Europe and Latin America also “Liberal” meant the party of freedom – but it does get a bit harder to argue the case in practice.

In Latin America “Liberal” basically meant “someone who robs the Church” as that is what Latin American Liberals seem to have concentrated on – with anticlericalism being a sort of religion in-its-self with them. But there were some Liberal (as in freedom) aspects – for example in the 1850s the Columbian Liberals got rid of slavery (also done by Liberal forces in other Latin American countries – the first being Chile in the early years of the 19th century). But there does seem to have been an obsession with “nation building” – with Liberals being associated with state education systems, and “national this” and “national that”.

In Europe the picture is not wonderful either.

In France things are best in terms of what “Liberal” meant – with the French “Liberal School of Political Economy” being solidly libertarian, the Say family, Bastiat and so on. And having a positive influence in the United States (the leading American free market economist of the 19th century was A.L. Perry – a follower of Bastiat). Even as late as the 1920s 1930s Irving Babbit (the leader of the “New Humanism” in literature) was a follower of French civilisation – and an enemy of the statism he associated with German thought.

Hard for us to think of French thinkers as defenders of “capitalist” civilisation – but perhaps we should remember such modern thinkers as Bertrand de Jouvenel and (leaving economics but not the defence of civilisation) Jacques Barzun – who died in Texas last year, the last living link with the old French civilisation, the civilisation that all those left bank degenerates revolted against.

Once French “Liberal School” thinkers (not British thinkers – as British liberal economic thought was a bit of a mess, Walter Baghot, J.S. Mill, Alfred Marshall) were indeed the main counter weight to Germanic statist thought in the United States.  It is only later that the “Austrian School”  took on the antistaist role of the French School in American thought – with, perhaps, the first Amercan thinker to be an open follower of the “Austrian School” being Frank Fetter.

People such as Richard Ely (and his followers “Teddy” Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson) may have wanted to destroy Germany – but only because they wanted to turn the United States into a new (and more extreme) version of Germany. Of course a more extreme version of Imperial Germany was eventually created, but not in the United States (as the Progressives were pushed back by Conservative forces in America) – but by the National Socialists in the 1930s, who adopted many American Progressive ideas (such as the extermination of the “inferior”) which had met determined opposition in the United States itself (almost needless to say, the true evil of the American Progressive movement does not appear in mainstream American history books – where they are presented as true “liberals”).

But in Switzerland, Germany and Italy things were less clear than in France.

In Switzerland – liberalism became associated with centralisation (with the destruction of the independence of the Cantons after the was of 1947 – in order to persecute Catholics, religious persection of the Jesuits may be “Liberal” but it is not libertarian) and the increase in the size and scope of the Central government after the 1874 Constitution – and in stages since then. Although, it should be pointed out, that the 20th century Liberal party in Switzerland was opposed to further centralisation – and was considered the opposite of the Social Democrats who became part of the Swiss govenrment in 1959 (and still are part of the Swiss government).

In Germany things were not good either. German liberalism was obsessed with nationalism. This became clear in 1848 – when the energies of the liberals were entirely devoted to building up a “nation called Germany” (an idea about as positive as the obsession with a “nation called Europe” is now).

Such a “unification” could only lead to higher taxes and so on (because of the reduction of tax and regulation competition between the various polities of the old Germany) – but the liberals (for the most part) did not seem to care about that.

Indeed even the opposition (it is wrong to call it resistance – as the liberals did not fire a shot) to the extra Parliamentary taxation (plundering) of Bismark after 1861 was not opposition to higher taxes as such, but just over who should increase the taxes.

That taxes “had to be” increased, in order to build up the Prussian Army to “unify” Germany (by such things as attacking Denmark, Austria and France……) was taken for granted by most Germans “liberals”. They just wanted to be in charge of doing it.

The Prussian liberals eventually split – into the “National Liberals” (who were Bismark’s slaves – till he turned on them as a “party of Jews”), and the “Progressives” who just went on about “civil liberties” (keeping rather quiet about the private property rights upon which civil liberties really depend) who eventually became the slaves of the Social Democrats (who, it should be remembered, were full socialists in Germany till the conference of 1959 when they moderated their position).

Bismark’s takeover of places such as the Kingdom of Hanover (and the increase in taxes upon the local people) do not seem to have produced much opposition from German Liberals.

Even the later creation of the Prussian Welfare State (with its roots in the “Police State” thinking of Frederick the Great and so on – long before) and Progressive (graduated) income taxation – seem to have only been opposed by a few isolated Liberal thinkers (not the mass of Liberal thought).

It is somewhat of a mircle that the few isolated thinkers that were all that was left of  “economic liberalism” in Germany by the Second World War (in the face of the German “Historical School” effort to wipe them out) were able to lauch such a comeback after World War II – although they were helped by the utter collapse of the National Socialists (the Nazis) and the wretched mess that the international socialists (the Marxists) produced in  East Germany. People (especially Catholic Conservatives) were looking for something else – and the few pro private enterprise (as opposed to Progressive) “liberal” thinkers in Germany provided it.

People (not just big “capitalists”) all sorts of people were looking for ideas that WORKED (a very German demand – as in the positive side of the German spirit) and the, relatively, free market policies offered to Germany from 1948 onwards did work.

And 19th century Italy?

Perhaps worst of all.

Mussolini was to say that his Fascism (all power to the state) was the “opposite of liberalism” (with its desire to reduce the size and scope of the state).

But there is little evidence for this in 19th century Italy (bar a few islolated thinkers) – on the contrary Italian Liberalism was obsessed with “unification”.

What did this mean in practice? In meant language persecution (with places like Venice having Tuscan forced down upon the people – as “standard Italian”), it meant conscription (for example Sicily did not have conscription before “unification”), it meant plundering (of Churches in Rome – and of private banks in Naples, whose wealth went to the new “Italian Treasury”) and it meant HIGHER TAXES.

Taxes in the South of Italy (the old Kingdom of Naples and Sicily) basically doubled – no wonder so many Southern Italians fled their “liberation” to go all the way to the United States. But a century and a half of brainwashing state eduation have made Italians forget all this – and resistance (which lasted for decades in Sicily) is written up as “bandit activity”.

In spite of its high taxes, the Liberal Kingdom of Italy was always on the verge of bankrutpcy – going from pratfall to pratfall till it collapsed in the face of the Fascists in the 1920s.

What to make of all this?

Well Karl Marx had no trouble explaining the contradiction between the pro freedom words of the Liberals and there less than pro freedom actions.

To him liberalism was just an “ideology” representing the “interests of the capitalists” – so governments would do what was in the interests of these “capitalists”.

The trouble with the Marxist account is that it is not true. For example some big business enterprises may have gained by Italian government’s Imperial adventures – but most big business enterprises lost by the high taxation and the messed up national finances.

In Germany Bismark never ruled in the interests of business – on the contrary he secretly subsidized the first socialists (whose movement he only turned against when it became powerful) in order to scare business people into not imposing his high tax policies (it is me or the Reds lads), and the people who followed Bismark were worse than he was. It is always possible to find business enterprises who benefit from statism – but that does not alter the fact that most of “big business” LOSES by it.

So what does explain why liberalism fell so short of its promise?

Anti clericalism is part of it – for example in Germany the Liberals mostly strongly supported Bismark’s “War of Culture” persecution of the Roman Catholics. Hardly a libertarian position – and one that made their own position, as Liberals, an isolated one. After all why should the Catholics support the Liberals when Bismark turned upon the latter as a “party of Jews”? The Liberals had not supported the freedom of the Catholics. And the Catholics (from 1891) fell more and more into forms of economic interventionism of their own – becomming the divided group of people they still are (Catholic “Social Teaching” is actually riven by rival “interpretations”).

But the main factor was the obsession with the “nation”.

Liberals rejected loyality to the old Kings and Princes (or to the little Free Cities) and they certainly rejected loyality to an international Church.

But they had a loyalty of their own – to the new “nation state” (whether in Latin America, Europe, or the “New Nationalism” and “New Freedom” of the American Progressive moverment which corrupted American liberalism – once American liberals had opposed the Progressives, but by the 1920s they had become one and the same, only the most reactionary elements in American life, the American versions of “Colonel Blimp and the old school tie” stood up in defence of Civilisation against the Progressive onslaught of eugenics and other horrors – much as the Hapsburgs, and other such, stood against it in Europe).

This Progressive nationalism (the interests of “the nation”, “the people”), not the “squalid interests of the capitalists”, eventually became the guiding light of liberalism.

But it collapsed in the horror of the unlimited “total wars” – the First World War and the Second World War.

“Well at least liberals have rejected nationalism now Paul”.

Yes they certainly have – so totally that they have forgotten that they were nationalists – and, sadly, they have replaced it with something WORSE.

There was always an elment in the New Liberalism (Progressivism) that was not satisfied with nationalism – after all some nations might collapse into “reactionary” forms of thought (perhaps even such “absurdities” as “natural law” like the more reactionary Catholics, Protestants and Jews).

The most “learned” (in the sense of the vile twisted “wisdom” one gets from, say, studying the works of Sauron – the basis of so much social sciences and humanities work in the universities and schools….) Progressives were never really satisfied with the tup thumping Proto National Statism of someone like “Teddy” Roosevelt – a man whose bark was often worse than his bite – for example he might not with agreement to an argument that blacks were inferior, but exterminate them? not a chance, he “even” used the same toilets as black people – which an “intellectual” such as Woodrow Wilson would never do. Deep down there was still something of the reactionary “gentleman” about T. Roosevelt (for all his Progressive ideas). And there was a fear that such people could never “rise above” the petty and weak ideas of their national traditions.

A true Progressive intellectual (such as Woodrow Wilson) thought on a WORLD scale.

They still worshipped the state – but it was (in their muddy dreams) a WORLD state. With nowhere, anywhere, for the “reactionary” and “inferior” to flee to.

Only a world state could ever truly be the new “God” – to replace the old fashioned (“bearded man in the sky”) view of God, that Progressive “Social Gospel” thought wished to transform into a religion of “the people” and “collective salvation”.

Even Woodrow Wilson never quite “freed himself” from the “moral chains of good and evil” that had been taught to him in childhood – and by the habits of his nation.

Marxism and other developments of international collectivism really made an impact later – cutting off the last links with concepts of “good” and “evil” in terms of personal conduct and honour.

The world state would not be a “state” – it would be “the people” the new “God”. And good would be (as with extreme theological “voluntarism” which is similar to legal and philosophical “Positivism”) whatever served the interests of this new “God” as worked out by the “enlightened elite”. Whether they called themselves, Marxist, Progressive, or “Liberal”.

As terrible as the 19th century alliance between Liberalism and Nationalism was – the 21st century alliance between Liberalism and COLLECTIVIST “internationalism” may prove to be even worse.

Back in Britain.

I have been back in Britain a few days (it feels like years), my impressions are….

“Evening Standard” on the late night-early morning train from the airport.

Weird article attacking “golf club Nazis” (for such clearly Nazi things as likeing Monty Python – no the article made no sense to me either). I have now remembered that this article was supposed to prove that “Citizenship” classes-tests should teach immigrants how to claim government benefits.  No I do not know why that is supposed to be a good (not a bad) thing  – or what it has got to do with Monty Python.

Odd letters to the editor saying they supported the government’s policy of reducing state spending (what reduction in state spending?) but wanted more spending on X, Y, Z – such as railways to places which already have railways going to them.

A big article on the “living wage” idea, which showed no idea of what a labour market is – and how trying to increase wages (with no increase in productivity) can only increase unemployment. But quoted various “leading conservatives” as being in support of the “living wage” concept, as a way of fighting the multinational corporations (why would a conservative want to do that?).

And an article by Mr Cameron on “keeping the spirit of the games alive” – but I could not bring myself to read it.

Back in Kettering told that Holocaust memorial day was used as an excuse for death-to-Israel speeches (killing six million Jews in the 1940s was wrong – but killing another six million Jews now would be good, because Jews are Nazis or something…. a bit like the golf club people?).

Visit London – go round bookshops. Leftist books are the ones pushed forward (on bits of board) or turned to face the customers. Pro free market books very rare in the London bookshops anyway. Do the shareholders in Waterstones, W.H. Smiths, and Foyles know that the staff (including the managers?) want them robbed and murdered?

And why do people employed in comfortable bookshops hate “capitalists” and “capitalism” anyway (it is something to do with the shareholders likeing Monty Python? or are they Jews? or perhaps they play golf?). Anyway the people in London appear to be very prosperious – try to force down “credit bubble city” thoughts….

Lots of students – perhaps this “education” thing explains a lot…..

Try to see the film “Zero Dark Thirty” in Kettering – but it is only on late at night in the cinema. So they can say that there is not much call for it? Something I have noticed before with non P.C. films – they are either not shown at all in the local cinema, or they are shown only once a day and an irritating time.

Notice that leftist newspapers (such as the “I”) still have special stands at the local supermarket or (like the ultra Keynesian “Financial Times”) are raised on boards to make them more visible than other newspapers. Why?

Leftist magazines also still pushed and non leftist ones not. Even “Time” magazine (which is not even a British magazine and has no British news in it) put in favoured position – for no reason.

British television and radio news (and television and radio comedy) scream, gag, slump to floor…….

Oh yes – I almost forgot…..

Hour long speech (loud enough to be a speech anyway) on the train to London from a young person who worked in the Cabinet Office (amongst other places) about how he went to see Barack Obama sworn in again – and had the words “Barack Obama” written into his flesh. Supposedly Comrade Barack is a great leader for “our people” (the gentleman had an English accent) and lots of words about Barack Obama’s skin colour (which was the same as that of the person giving the speech).

Does this chap understand that he is a racist? Or does he have some some sort of Frankfurt School way out of basic logic?

Anyway his friends seemed most impressed by his words. And he did make a couple of references to things other than Mr Obama’s skin colour. For example the importance of “networking” to gain money from the state (I suppose the word “networking” is a word that modern people use for “corrupt influence”) and how much money (1.2 million) a friend of his had raised for the Obama campaign.

Oh, of course, also how people joined the “public sector” to “help people”. The young gentleman was expensively dressed – so clearly the “public sector” (the taxpayers) have helped him, and his “networking friends”.

%d bloggers like this: