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In defence of Karl Marx.

Very well the title is, partly, a trick – I do not intend to defend the general work of Karl Marx, I am simply going to, partly, defend one aspect of his thought.  Specifically that 19th European century liberalism was, in part, an ideological cover for material interests – which were, at base, in contradiction with the general rhetoric of liberalism.

I do not accept the philosphy, history, economics or political ideas of Marxism – either the various positions of Karl Marx himself or the various mutant forms of Marxism (German, American and British Frankfurt School, Italian, American and British Gramsci school, the various French Schools and so on) that have emerged since his death. However, if Karl Marx said “I think it is noon” and the sun was at its highest point in the sky – I would not argue.

The rhetoric of 19th century European (it is more complex with British liberalism – due, perhaps, to an oddity in the English language – but I will not go into that here)  liberalism is well known – freedom, rolling back the state, voluntary interaction and private property rights (and so on).

Yet the practice was very different. For example after the liberal constitutional revolution of 1830 France got a regime that proclaimed inself widly in favour of free enterprise and freedom generally but……..

Taxes on imports, and other state interventions, saturated France, and half the members of the French Parliament had direct connections with companies subsidized by the government.

The gap between the “ideological superstructure” of the regime and its base (its “economic base”) was vast and could fairly be described as a “contradiction”.

Nor was France an isolated case. For example, both German and Italian unification were central liberal causes passionately supported by liberals all over the world (including in Britain). Yet in both cases unification led, overall, to a state with HIGHER taxes and MORE regulations. The sour taste of German unification might be blamed upon Bismark (although German liberals were not noted for demanding independence for old low tax Kingdoms such as Hannover, or for denoucning Bismark’s persecution of Roman Catholics).

But “Bismark” can not be reason why Italian unification meant higher taxes and government spending than had been the case before, nor can it explain such things as introduction of conscription to Sicily or the persecution that led to such violence there (far more deaths than in the “liberation” of Sicily), or the language persecution that was subjected on places (such as Venenzia) where people did not speak “standard Italian” – i.e. Tuscan.

Before unification Italy, unlike Ireland, was not known as a huge source of immigrants to the United States – after unification it soon became a place of mass emmigration. A sad comment on the supposedly beautiful liberal unification.

And if Italy is not enough, what of Switzerland?  Liberalism was forced on the Catholic Cantons in Switzerland by armed violence – and nor was it “just” the war of 1847, Cantons such as Appenzell, which had made no effort to leave the Swiss Confederation, were fined for the “crime” of not attacking Cantons who had tried to leave the “voluntary” Confederation (remember, unlike the United States, there is no slavery factor here – Cantons like Zug and Luzern were attacked simply for the “crime” of trying to leave the Confederation), the Jesuit Order was banned (so much for religious freedom) and elections in Cantons like Zug were rigged (by a liberal occupying elite) for DECADES.

So much for both the liberal claim to represent “freedom” and for the liberal claim to represent “democracy”. Direct democracy, the people voting themselves in a public open square, was always despised by liberals – but indirect “representative” democracy was rigged.

In Italy voting was also  wildly suspect (and on a restricted franchise – after all one would not all those Catholic peasants voting, that would make things hard to rig) – with the various unification votes being by such big majorities as to be considered (even by the supporters of unification) obviously rigged.  Such votes could also be rigged in reverse (and were) – for example Savoy and Nice were proclaimed to have voted to no longer be Italian and to want to join up with France (because that was the price N. III demanded for his aid). They were most likely better off with France – but the whole thing left a sour taste, at least to someone who was not so drunk with liberal rhetoric that they believed everything the rulers said (a rather odd form of liberalism – that depends on a total trust of everything that govenrment says, even if it contradicts what they said only yesterday).

How to explain all this?

How to explain the contrast between the endless talk of liberty, smaller less burdensome government, and constitutional self government, and the reality of persecution (religous persecution, language persecution and so on), bigger government (higher taxes, more government spending, more regulations) and ballot rigging and endless corruption in government.

Karl Marx had an explination.

His explination was that, whilst many liberals may be totally sincere in their talk, in reality (at bottom) liberalism is just ideological rhetoric for the material self interest of the owners of capital – capitalists (factory owners – and so on).

The capitalists needed bigger markets and would benefit from state favours – so liberals found themselves supporting unification.

If free trade benefitted the capitalists – then governments would end up supporting free trade (as they did in Britain) if it did not benefit the capitalists then governments would support protectionism – regardless of liberal rhetoric. Just as they did in early 19th century France.

And on and on, with later Marxists making adjustments – for example talking about the possibly different material interests of factory owners and bankers (industrial capitalism and finance capitalism) and how this might lead to conflicts.

And Marxists making the point that they could explain even the obsession of liberals with state education. Seemingly this was the most obvious contradiction of all – with liberals (going right back to “liberals” such as John Locke in the 17th century – i.e. before the word “liberal” was even used in political terms) denouncing the idea of state education as a way of destroying freedom of thought and diversity – of nipping them “in the bud” , and producing a drab mindset.

Yet, in practice, every liberal regime in the world set about building such a state education system – with the full active support of most liberal thinkers of the time, who seemed to forget about “freedom of thought” and “diversity of opinion” as soon as their political faction was in power. To the Marxist the solution of this problem was obivious – liberalism was (at base) just a false ideology to cover the interests of the capitalists , so OF COURSE the liberals created a state education system (or state examinations, as with the desire of J.S. Mill – Mill accepted private schools, but his desire for state examinations de facto castrated them) in order to spread their ideology of control over the masses – and if this contradicted their “freedom” talk, that was just another capitalist contradiction to be expossed.

Now I do not accept that liberalism is a cover for the material interests of factory owners (I do not even accept that “capitalists” have a unified material interest – or that, for example, factory owners will always have political views based on their material interest), for example ALL the great French economic writers (not just Bastiat, ALL of them) denounced the economic policies of the “liberal” French regime of 1830 to 1848 – the subsidies and the trade taxes.

Just as the great Italian liberal writers denounced the economic policies (the wasteful spending and so on) of the new Kingdom of Italy (with the German example it is more complicated – with the liberals splitting, and even the anti statist liberals falling into other forms of statism quite quickly).

Nor do I accept that governments are just tools of capitalists – for example the government of the Kindom of Italy followed many of the policies it did (such as forcing conscription on Sicily) for nationalistic reasons – not just to serve the interests of Turin factory owners in Piedmont, or Lombard bankers in Milan.

Lastly state education has never proved to be a good way of spreading ideological acceptance of  “capitalism” – on the contrary (as John Locke and many others predicted) it produces a drab mindset that sees state action as the “natural” way to deal with any problem (after all if the state is good enough to control education….. and people are naturally unable to pay for or organize the education of their own children…..) the mass products of such places are not exactly naturallymore  friendly to private property after they leave school and university than when they entered them (rather the reverse if anything) – even before statists infiltrate and take control of such things as teacher training (which they do with great ease in a near monopoly system).

However, I think I have said enough to show that Karl Marx had a case when he claimed that there seemed to be vast contradictions in liberalism – and why he was listened to, and why his explination seemed, to many, to be convincing.

Nor is this just a European story – for example the difference between liberal rhetoric and liberal reality in 19th century Latin America, and the case that material interests of wealthy farmers and other businessmen were at the base of this contradiction, is famous – but to examine (the truth and the falseness in the case against 19th century Latin American liberalism) would take a post on its own.


  1. Paul Marks says:

    Someone might ask WHY liberal governments in Europe were such a let down for liberal thinkers (Bastiat, the Say family, the great Italian thinkers whose names I have trouble spelling, Ferrara, Pareto – and so on in other lands). “If you have no explination – then perhaps Karl Marx is correct Paul”.

    Well me having no explination would not prove that Karl Marx was correct – indeed the evidence clearly shows his explination was incorrect. But actually I do have some thoughts about why 19th century European liberalism was such a let down.

    I think it was the neglect by 19th century European liberal thinkers of certain old POLITICAL (not economic) insights.

    I would not expect most 19th century European liberals to be ardent followers of Edmund Burke – after all he was wildly seen as a conservative and a defender of the Ancient Regime (the first is true, in a way, the second is not true, as Burke actually despised the unlimited monarchies of France, Spain and so on – but then, as Burke pointed out, this sort of regime was not so “ancient” anyway, it was the product of misguided “reform”).

    However, I am shocked by the lack of attention so many 19th century European liberal thinkers paid to the insights of Montesquieu.

    Everyone knew the name of Montesquieu, and every educated person at least claimed to have read “The Spirit of the Laws”, yet either they did not see what was in front of their noses – or they rejected his ideas without even bothering to argue against them.

    Even in the 1700′s Montesquieu gets displaced with astonishing speed – by the late 18th century what are now called the “liberals” are following such thinkers as Voltaire and singing the praises of such rulers as Frederick “The Great” and other “enlightened despots”.

    The whole message of Montesquieu that the power of government should be INSTITUTIONALLY LIMITED – by all the traditional means, the automony of the established old regions, Grand Dutchies, Free Cities (and so on) and by the Estates and Paliaments (the division of powers – the Paliament should not be the executive – for then it can not act as a check on the executive), and by the tradtional independence of the nobility, and of the Church and of…….

    Alll this was swept away – without later “liberals” even bothering to refute Montesquieu’s arguments (they just treated the arguments as if the4y did not exist – even whilst the quoted Montesquieu on such things as how evil it was to enslave Africans and so on).

    Instead liberal POLITICAL thought (even into the 20th century with Ludwig Von Mises) rejected ideas about tradition and constitutions and natural law and …. (well everything really) and held that government should be modern and free to do what was for the “greatest good of the greatest number”.

    I see so with your political hat on you (the liberals) set up an unlimited centralized government that has no checks upon it at all. Then, with your economic hat on, you tell this utterly modern, unlimited centralized government – that it should not do anything.

    Well that is not going to work out well – and it had not worked out well.

    Of course the great exception among liberal thinkers (if we are to call them liberals) were the American Founding Fathers (“they did not act on what Baron M. said about slavery Paul” – no they did not, even though they all said they agreed that slavery was wrong, which makes their inaction worse in a way).

    The Founding Fathers cited and took ideas from Montesquieu endlessly – vastly more than they cited and took ideas from the thinkers they are supposed to have been dominated by (John Locke and so on).

    But this seems to have gone down the memory hole – and “enlightened” thought now ignores Montesquieu (apart from on a few pet things like slavery – and also a few weird things like his opinions of the effects of climate) in the United States – just as it did in Europe.

    And with similar terrible results.

  2. Paul Marks says:

    I should point out that British political thought misses the point about Montesquieu also.

    The British political philosopher who comes closest to undersanding Baron M. is, perhaps, M.J. Oakeshott – but as normal with Oakeshott (in many ways a great and good man) the examination gets side tracked into Oakeshott’s interest into what a “modern European state” is, its essential character.

    Oakeshott (like virtually all British political thinkers of the last couple of centuries) is disinterested in instititutional limits on government (be they internal, such as the division of powers, or extenal – such the support of Free Cities, the traditional rights of regions and so on), perhaps because he just assumes that government should be an unlimited Parliament (or whatever) that can do what it likes – but should govern in a certain way (if it is to be true to the character of a …….).

    To me this assumption makes mainstream British CONSTITUTIONAL thought over the last couple of centuries – utterly worthless.

    Once one has made the assumption of a unlimited central power than can do what it likes (the “Hobbes move” one might call it) then liberty is, at best, living on borrowed time – the whole idea of liberty has been fatally undemined by the very STARTING ASSUMPTION one has made.

    In this British Liberals (and Conservatives) are as bad as the thinkers of mainland Europe.

    And, NO, modern “human rights conventions” (and so on) do not make the situation better – if anything they make it WORSE.

  3. NickM says:

    I have a cat. Now if the imp of the perverse grasped me I might be tempted to say about little Timmy that he is a dog. Words are only labels, right? In exactly the same we can call various thinkers and politicos “liberals” but it does not make ‘em so any more than calling Timmy a dog means he isn’t a cat. I get a bee in my bonnet (though I call it a wasp) when “right-wing” US jounos deplore Obama’s “liberalism”. OK, I may agree with some of the substance of the criticism but not the label. There is nothing “liberal” about Obama. Same as there is nothing “far-right” about the BNP who are socialists who don’t like black people. If I had one political wish it would be… Well, I suppose I could rule the world as an enlightened despot but that would be a disaster, No it would be smaller. It would be that everyone called a spade a spade. If this meant almost every political party in the world was forced to change it’s name then I’d call that a result.

    That is my Christmas Wish. Make it so Mr Worf! It is modest but it is needed. C’mon. You know it makes sense. What do you think Robert Peel would make of iDave. A pie of some form I think. What would Gladstone do to Nick Clegg. A pie again – this time chewed 32 times. What indeed would Keir Hardy do to Ed Milliband? I dunno put I would pay to watch. We have a Conservative party that isn’t, a bastardised Liberal party that isn’t and a Labour party that gave up even pretending to represent the working class decades ago.

  4. Umbongo says:

    One brief observation:

    Michael Oakeshott’s practical advice re political systems was opaque to say the least. I stand to be corrected, of course, but I can’t recall him making any statement that he was in favour of unlimited (even if parliamentary) governmental power. What he did say was that governments – or the constitutional arrangements of a polity – had a duty to keep the ship of state sailing, not to bring it into any particular port. His great essay – Rationalism in Politics – expressed his belief in the strengths of tradition and (in Experience and its Modes) that governments – and constitutions – are best where they rely on the lessons taught by experience. This implies at the very least (to me at any rate) that Oakeshott believed in limited constitutional arrangements.

  5. Paul Marks says:

    Nick M. – I agree that there is nothing liberal about Barack Obama (he is not even a generious man – see his lack of giving to charity before he started to run for President, he is as “iliberal” in his personal conduct as he is in his politics).

    That is why Glenn Beck (amongst others) does not like to hear Barack Obama called “a liberal” – even though he will sometimes let it pass (rather than have a row every time) as he does not accept the takeover of the word by the left.

    Of course (in English) there was always a tradition that interpreted “liberalism” as meaning a kindly government that gave you lot of stuff (the problem in English – liberal as in liberality, broad generious), but not even these liberals were socialists they just were NOT.

    It was only the 1920′s that American liberals started to dominate the word “liberal”.

    “But they support free speech and stuff Paul – so on noneconomic questions Obama is a liberal”.

    If anyone comes back with that reply – no, no, a thousand times no.

    Take the “Free Press” organization – a bunch of Marxists (founded by a Marxists University of Wisconsin academic) who HATE AND DESPISE “capitalist” free speech.

    And who has been appointing these scumbags to organizations like the F.C.C.?

    Comrade Barack (with his long training – see “Radical in Chief” and other works on his training by the American Socialist movement) of course.

    Barack Obama is not “just” opposed to economic freedom – I agree that he is in no sense a “liberal” (old liberal, new liberal – simply not a liberal).


    Yes – Oakeshott does not normally deal with the concrete political issues of the day (at least not in his published works – if you can find the missing dairy, he kept a regular one for decades but nothing after 1970 has been found, please let me know).

    Also he does, in works like Rationalism in Politics, just tend to say tradition or experience and leave it at that – which just is not any good. Anyone can say they are acting in line with tradition (which tradition? Oakeshott accepts their is an “enterprise association” tradition which goes back centuries, just as there is a “civil association” tradition that opposes it) or experience.

    The experience of who?

    Edward the First (or so many others) who bled the country white (with his wars of aggression) and left it gasping for life?

    However, in other works (such as Human Conduct) Oakeshott does make it fairly clear where he stands on what the state should do (and NOT do).

    But, like his hero Thomas Hobbes (see his work on him – perhaps “hero” is a bit strong, but it is a favourable work) he says nothing about how government is to be limited if the ruler or rulers decide NOT to be just a protecter of life and property.

    With Thomas Hobbes we know his position (and Oakseshott does not deny it) – you offer wise advice to the ruler or rulers, but if the regime prefers to plunder people and murder people, that is just too bad. You can not help the victims – you just keep your head down and try and save your own skin.

    But what is the position of Michael Oakeshott?

    How would he prevent a government growing and committing terrible crimes (claiming they were not crimes because it has just passed a statute saying they were not crimes……).

    You are right Umbongo, Oakeshott does believe in limited government – but he says no where (as far as I know) HOW it is to be limited.

    At least – not as far as I know.

  6. Paul Marks says:

    At some points in his life M.J. Oakeshott implied that the forces of collectivism (i.e. that the state should control human life – not just keep order and protect lives and property) were quite recent. That (for example) that Francis Bacon was the big change and so on.

    However, to be fair to Oakeshott he did accept (when asked) that, for example, Thomas Cromwell’s ideas (a government depertment covering every aspect of human life – not put into practice at the time, but if Cromwell had not fallen) were very much part of the same “enterprise association” (“universitas”) tradition.

    AND (this is the important bit) Oakeshott understood that this tradition was also there in the story of every “Modern European State” going back however far one looked (even back to the Roman Empire and beyond).

    The civil association has always faced the enterprise association – the “societas” has always faced the “universitas”. We have been fighting since there have been such things as humans. And not just between groups – but INSIDE each person.

    So to say “tradition” or “experience” avoids the question of “which one”. For one can have many years of experience of a very bad kind.

    How does try and reduce the chances of the growth of tyranny?

    Chaos is not the opposite of despotism – they are akin, in both the lives and goods of people are violated and people are the slaves of fear.

    “But there can never be a final victory against the darkness Paul – it always grows back”.

    Of course there can be no final victory and of course the corruption always grows back – that does not mean that one does not try.

    One looks for institutional ways (not just wise advise) to limit the harm evil can do, one repairs those defences that already exist. And if defences are lacking – one builds them.

  7. Paul Marks says:

    By the way – why do I say that modern “human rights conventions” and so on often make the situation WORSE, not better. Surely they are the sorts of “defences” I have in mind.

    No they are not – partly because they are only as good as the judges who “interpret” them and the executive that enforces them (so one has to look at these things first, at the basic structure of govenrment itself – not just the words it uses).

    But also because the very foundations of most modern declarations are twisted – so twisted as to be often a force for tyranny (not a defence against it).

    Under the fair words there is poison – and this is to be expected considering that such evil folk as E.H. Carr and Harold Laski had a big hand in writing these documents.

  8. Umbongo says:

    I claim no special knowledge of Oakeshott’s “real” opinions although his work was coloured by his attachment to tradition as expressed through the English experience of government. Accordingly, “tradition” in this respect I understand as its manifestation in the constitutional development of England which is the political “experience” of which Oakeshott approves in that, crudely speaking, it worked.

    However, there is a perennial difficulty with Oakeshott in that he was essentially an observer. He refused AFAIAA to offer any practical prescription for government based on his philosophising about it. In this he diverged markedly from his predecessor at LSE (of whom he disapproved), Harold Laski. This disapproval was, of course, political but I consider that Laski’s activism was also offensive to Oakshott’s idea of what a university was about.

  9. Umbongo says:


    I claim no special knowledge of Oakeshott’s “real” opinions although his work was coloured by his attachment to tradition as expressed through the English experience of government. Accordingly, “tradition” in this respect I understand as its manifestation in the constitutional development of England which is the political “experience” of which Oakeshott approves in that, crudely speaking, it worked.

    However, there is a perennial difficulty with Oakeshott in that he was essentially an observer. He refused AFAIAA to offer any practical prescription for government based on his philosophising about it. In this he diverged markedly from his predecessor at LSE (of whom, as you imply, he disapproved), Harold Laski. This disapproval was, of course, political but Laski’s activism was also offensive to Oakshott’s idea of what a university was about.

  10. Umbongo says:

    It seems that I have posted two versions of the same response. FWIW, the 11:30 pm submission is the “official” one

  11. Paul Marks says:

    Oakeshott is fairly clear about his opinions – so there is no need to say “real”.

    For example, the footnote on page 153 of “On Human Conduct”.

    “And there is, of course, no place in civil association for so called “distributive” justice; that is, the distribution of desirable substantive goods. Such a “distribution” of substantive benefits or advantages requires a rule of distribution and a distributor in possession of what is to be distributed; but lex [Oakeshott uses the Latin word for "law" as, in English, the word "law" has come to mean any arbitrary command of the state] cannot be a rule of disribution of this sort, and civil rulers have nothing to distribute”.

    Now one can say “Oakeshott is just describing how Civil Association folk think – he does not say he is one of them”, but I would submit that this quote (and many others I could produce) clearly shows which side of the eternal war the sympathies of Oakeshott are on (the opposite side to the side that the sympathies of Harold Laski are on).

    Oakeshott also attacks thinkers and doers in politics for allowing the concept of “rights” to be perverted from a limit on the state – to an excuse for more state action (by rights TO…….).

    So this matter is clear.

    As for the line that the rule of a political philosopher is to observe and describe – and not to suggest anything (ditto the role of a university).

    Well how about “observing and describing” various structual ways that have been made to limit government.

    It is perfectly within the realm of scholarship to say “such and such a method seems to have failed, here is the evidence, and this is WHY I think it has failed”.

    And “this method seems to have been more successful, here is the evidence, and this is WHY I think it has been more successful – AND possible suggestions to make it more sucessful still”.

    Oakeshott’s works are very “bloodless” – he is indeed like a man on a distant hill. But I do NOT think that is just because that is his view of what scholarship should be like.

    It is also a very British thing – the unlimted power of Parliament is ASSUMED (as a starting assumption) so one is confined to offering good advice.

    But what if the rulers do not wish to take this good advise – but wish to rob, rape, and kill instead (all upheld by “Acts of Parliament” of course).

    The British writer has nothing to say in such a case.

    Which, I repeat, makes mainstream British CONSTITUTIONAL writing (liberal or conservative) utterly worthless.

    Surely a starting condition of university (and other) thought is that nothing must be off limits to thought – not “we will start from an assumption that limits all thought into this narrow valley”.

    By the way – in modern times at least the whole thing is utterly insincere (not in Oakeshott, but in the moderns).

    The unlimited power of Parliament – ACCEPT that every E.U. edict trumps Parliament, and (it now appears) every bit of “international law”(i.e. the transnational ravings of the international “liberal” elite) including “human rights law”, trumps Parliament as well.

    Of course, as Chief Justice Hewart pointed out in his “The New Despotism” (1929), “delegated legislation” meant that the Exectutive (not Parliament) made most “law” even in the 1920s – the government (the Executive part of government) could rob people and order them about, without even a specific Act of Parliament clearly saying they could – just a vague “Enabling Act” sort of thing much like the European Communities Act of the early 1970s.

    Scholarship that holds all the above to be off limits, to be “not what a university is about” is decayed – rotten to the core.

    Ditto a scholarship that insists upon artificial language – not just a pretense of “objectivity” but a form of language that is DESIGNED so that ordinary people will not understand it (and this Oakeshott was NOT guilty of).

    The moden language of the “intellectual” class, makes the technical langage of the Schoolmen of the Middle Ages seem both open, clear and to the point.

    To guides for someone writing on politics.

    “Does your work openly state your own position – not try and smuggle it in by the back door?”

    And “If I gave what you have just written to the man or women who cleans the toilets (by the way, a task that requires some thought – a stupid person can not clean and service things well) could they understand it, assuming they made a honest effort to understand it”?

    If the reply to either of these questions is “no” – then the person should go back and write the thing again.

  12. Paul Marks says:

    That should be “two guides” not “to guides” of course.

    And, in my previous comment, I should have said that it was not till the 1920′s that American SOCIALISTS took control of what the word “liberal” means (i.e. turned it into meaning “socialist”).

    Before the First World War people who described themseleves as “liberal” (rather than “Progressive”) in American politics still held there should be limits on the functions of the state – they might have held these limits should be broad (“liberal” – due to the confused nature of the English language), but they still believed in limits.

    In the 1920s socialists (and they were socialists – indeed they even supported the Soviet Union) took over the word “liberal” and founded vile organizations like the ACLU.

    “Vile” because they pretend to be pro the founding principles of the United States (“we must wrap ourselves in [pretended]devotion to the Constitution” as the founder of the ACLU put it) whilst, in fact, hating and wishing to destroy these “capitalist” principles.

  13. Umbongo says:


    You say that, on the basis of recognising the supremacy of Parliament to pass any law it wishes, (most) British constitutional writing is worthless. However, Oakeshott and other writers wrote on the basis that the British constitution worked and actually did deliver the rule of law and all those other good things which we once valued. That is their starting point and they (and I) wonder why this was so and how it came to be.

    Oakeshott, I believe although I stand to be corrected, thought that it was the following of a tradition which applied a self-denying ordinance to English politics. This tradition appears to have prevented the supremacy of Parliament being used to allow rulers “to rob, rape, and kill”. “Tradition” was already failing at the time Hewart wrote and its failure was signalled by a shift of discretionary power ostensibly to ministers but actually to apparatchiks. I think we can take it that the tradition is now almost completely broken and that the supremacy of Parliament rather than guaranteeing our freedoms (not our “rights” which are, IMHO, non-existent) is their most potent threat.

  14. Paul Marks says:

    When Blackstone first wrote of the “Soverignty of Parliament” (the power of Parliament to do anything) he, of course, assmed he would do nothing really bad.

    However, this “you can do anything you like – but of course you will not” position horrified the American Founding Fathers. Not just in relation to the United States but in relation to Britain also.

    What is astonishing is how long it took for self restraint to break down.

    Of course now things are even worse.

    As the words “but this was never allowed by Parliament” carry no strength. The reply can simply be “this E.U. directive ordered it – and Parliament has given power to the E.U.” or “it is ordered by the European Convention on Human Rights – and Parliament has accepted this [very vague and arbitrary] document”.

    Even back in Hewart’s day – Parliament was already (had for decades) passed enabling bill style legislation, allowing the Executive to make law, in a certain area of policy, by “delegated legislation” (without any formal Parliamentary approval).

    Exactly the thing that (for example) John Locke had warned a Parliament must never do.

    If anyone challenges (in Britain or America) the principle of “delegated legislation” (i.e. “law” that was never debated or voted upon) we are told that it is essential for the “modern state” and that any opposition is a “horse and buggy” view of the Constitution (the F.D.R, sneer).

    I say – “then shame on the modern state – if it can not function without endless rules (that have the force of law) that no one ever debated or voted upon, then IT SHOULD NOT FUNCTION”.

    Actually it is a back handed concession by the statists.

    For many years they mocked the idea that big government must lead to the destruction of civil liberties and of Parliamentary (Legislative) control of the Executive, but they accept that “delegated legislation” (the power to make rules with the force of law – without direct Parliamentary vote or debate and examination) is “essential” to their project.

    In short the old German writers (back in the 1700′s) were correct – the “welfare state” (the state that gives you everything) must be part of a “police state” (the state executive that controls every aspect of your life).

    Under such a scheme “control of the Executive by the Legislature” is an illusion – as Acts become hundreds of pages long (unread by the people who vote on them) and full of vague language (which is why it is useless to try and read them) to be made into specific regulations by the bureaucracy later.

    Not just such things as the American Health Bill, but Financial Services Bill and the “Food Safety” Bill – all now Acts.

    And all vague “Enabling Acts” that allow the Executive to “fill in the blanks” (make law as it sees fit – and punish people for breaking it) to a level that would have delighted Louis XIV.

  15. Paul Marks says:

    Of course I agree that Oakeshott would be (was) horrified, by all of this.

    But what does he suggest we do?

    The silence, the silence.

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