Democracy Will Win, The People Will Lose

In our society “democracy” is a universally positive concept. Many people use it synonymously with freedom. Tyranny and democracy do not go together. It is remarkable that this positive image can continue to prevail, despite the fact that most people are ready to admit that there is a lot that is going wrong in politics.

The main reason that people seem to continue to promote democracy is that they cannot possibly imagine a better alternative to the system. But why are we so willing to accept the popular claim that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others? After all it has brought about some truly bad results. The Nazis, one of the most criminal regimes in human history, came to power in a democratic system. Right now, we have a number of truly ugly governments in power, who have the blessing of the voters, from Erdogan in Turkey to Putin in Russia, Orbán in Hungary and Duda in Poland, to name just the most obvious. All these governments won in fair elections.

And then of course there is the current election in the US. As I am writing this, it is not clear who is going to win this election circus, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Whoever it may be, democracy will have won in the end. Whoever it may be will have come to power with the blessings of the voters.

And that is saying a lot. As before every election, we get the usual ‘this time is the most important election ever’ mantra. I have never bought into that, but I have to say, even to me this time seems a bit different. The wisdom of the crowds has narrowed the realistic choices for the oval office down to two candidates who are so awful that even their supporters often cannot praise them with a straight face. In fact, this election, the vast majority of people seem to vote mainly against the other candidate rather than for someone.

I was surprised to see that even a libertarian like Penn Jillette came out openly saying that he is going to vote for Hillary Clinton, a candidate that he admits he has no agreements with. His vote for Clinton is purely a desperate attempt to keep Trump out of the White House. I cannot even blame him.

This absurd situation is fundamentally the result of a democratic system at work. No one can seriously say that there is something undemocratic about the awful and dangerous situation that the American people find themselves in. And yet, I hardly hear anyone seriously questioning the legitimacy of this evil charade.

That is remarkable, since it does not seem difficult to imagine a better alternative. What about liberty? What about just accepting the idea that people have unalienable rights to their life, liberty and property? What more do we need than that to organise a very attractive society for everyone? There is no need for a government to constantly change the law. All we need is a legal system that enforces these rights. All the details of life that need sorting out can be better arranged by free contracts between the people involved in the decisions, rather than a one size fits all top down government.

But no, unfortunately, liberty is not an option for most people. Or worse, they are so confused that they think liberty is what democracy is. They rather think that this absurd situation of having the choice between Trump and Hillary, having Erdogan, Putin, Orbán and Duda telling them what to do with their lives is the absolute best they can do. That is sad, but I don’t see this changing soon. That means that unfortunately, as ever in fair elections, democracy will win and the people are fucked.

Is Historical Injustice A Justification For Taxation?

Libertarians tent to think that taxation is theft. Taking someone’s private property by force can hardly be called anything else, right? And yet, most people seem to find this argument rather unconvincing. Many probably have never thought about this issue very deeply and just accept taxation as normal and unavoidable and therefore legitimate.

But there are people who have thought about it and have tried to answer the libertarian theft claim. One popular argument they have come up with is that it is the state that enables the existence of private property. Without the state we would not have it. From this point of view, it is then easy to argue that the state does not really steal anything through taxes but merely withholds its own property, the property of society, instead. This argument however is little convincing. There are too many examples of non state societies that had some concept of property. In fact, I am not aware that there have ever been societies that did not know any type of private property.

Because this argument seems easily debunked, the advocates of taxation are increasingly moving towards a more subtle argument. Yes, they concede, there are very legitimate forms of property. If someone produces something with his own labour, it is hard to argue that this should not be his to keep. However, they also argue that there is one type of private property which seems difficult to justify and makes all other private property questionable. The property in question is private land ownership.

Land exists independent of human beings. With what right does someone claim sole usage of such a scarce resource? There have been, and still are, plenty of societies to whom the concept of individual land ownership is alien. Land clearly has to belong to everyone equally.

The most common libertarian answer to this objection comes from the philosopher David Hume. Hume argued that land can be legitimately, privately owned, if someone mixes his labour with it. He called this concept homesteading. Some of the extra value of this homesteaded land is now due to a person’s labour. So not letting him own that land means to free-load on that labour and therefore exploit him.

This is not a bad argument. However, I never found it entirely convincing either. It looks a bit like a fudge. It seems, the argument is used to somehow, almost forcefully, justify land ownership, a conclusion that really stands before the argument. In other words, land ownership does not seem to follow from the cheer force of the argument.

There are multiple convincing ways to attack homesteading. Firstly, one could argue, fine, the homesteader can keep the extra value he has created. But every land still has some value beyond this added labour value. For example, an import part of the value of land is location, location, location. It clearly matters, whether I build a house in the middle of flyover land or in the middle of Manhattan. Why would I alone be able to keep the full value? If the location is valuable to a lot of people, and I have not created that value, would it not be correct to argue that I still owe the others some compensation for my sole usage? This could be a good argument for taxation of land.

Another extra value the landowner might get is natural resources. I own some land because I have mixed my labour with it. Beneath that land is a lot of oil. Do I now have the sole right to exploit that oil, even though I did not create any of it? Again, would it not be at least fair to tax someone for the exploitation of natural resources?

The most obvious flaw with the homesteading argument however is that this is not how most land got into private ownership. Historically, the most common form of acquiring land was through conquest. Some government just took it and distributed it among its followers. In England for example, there is still a lot of land which is owned by royals. Most of the other land in private ownership was at some point acquired from royals. There is not much homesteading by the owners here, just a violent take over. Clearly that cannot be right. As a result, an increasingly popular argument for taxation in general is to say that, even though there might be a legitimate form of property, this does not apply to a lot of property today. Ownership of land and resources was historically almost universally acquired in not legitimate ways. Therefore, current property owners owe society compensation for the usage of this illegitimately acquired property.

Why the historical injustice argument does not work

This is not a bad argument and it deserves a detailed answer. In my view there are several flaws in it. The first is that it is automatically assumed that there is such an object like ‘society’ with a common will and interests. The existence of such a society seems necessary in order to argue for taxation on the basis of historical injustice. But such a society does not exist. Instead taxes are being paid to the state. The state however is a very different beast. It cannot solve the problem of scarcity, which is at the heart of this problem. Instead, the state runs into the exact same problem as the land owner.

Let us assume we could figure out exactly how much of the Manhattan house value is due to labour and how much to location. Of course, such an assessment is impossible. Valuations are inherently subjective and too many factors need to be considered. But for the sake of the argument let us assume we could obtain objective information. The taxes the house owner pays as compensation for the location would not go to benefit every other person on the planet. Instead the money is distributed towards specific groups of people.

So the question arrises, why do only these groups of people get that money and not everyone else? If we do give it to a group of people and not everyone equally, then the argument does not resolve the special interest at the centre of the problem. Instead of the Manhattan house owner getting the full benefit, we just have decided to use a different mechanism to distribute this special interest. But it is not clear why this is supposed to be more just. And even if it were just equally just, is it really a better, as in easier, solution to be preferred to private property? Given that we cannot even figure out how much of the value is exactly due to his labour, this solution looks in fact more arbitrary and vulnerable to abuse. In no way is this a justification for allowing a government to raise taxes and distribute them as it see fit. The idea that taxes benefit a society as a whole is simply factually false. Whenever people talk about society, they are trying to disguise special interests.

Still, the libertarian claim that taxation is always theft assumes legitimate property. And libertarians do not argue that property which is acquired by conquest is legitimate. Yet that is how most land ownership was acquired historically. Is property really legitimate when it stands in a tradition of illegitimate property claims? It looks to me like the answer is, it depends. But homesteading is probably not a good, or at least not a sufficient argument for land ownership today. We have to come up with something better.

Libertarians argue for a maximum of individual liberty. That means they argue that everyone should be left alone, by other people, to live their lives as they please. That is not to say that libertarians argue in favour of everyone being a lone wolf. Of course, everyone is free to interact with other people if that is what they choose to do with their lives. But ideally no one should proactively interfere with other people’s projects in life.

Since we live in a scarce world, absolute individual liberty unfortunately seems impossible. Sometimes we will have to involuntarily get into each other’s hair. But libertarians try to come up with rules that keep these involuntary interactions at a minimum. Private property is an example of such a rule. We need to respect certain types of ownership for it to become possible to leave people alone in a scarce world.

A scarce, desirable resource, by its nature, cannot be used by everyone. For example, if I burn this litre of petrol in my car, you cannot also burn it in yours. And we certainly cannot burn it for society as a whole. That means that collective ownership, as advocated by a lot of socialists, does not solve this problem. Nature forces us to come up with some form of special usage rights for desirable scarce resources.

I would argue that if we want to maximise liberty, that means if we want to minimise involuntary interferences of people with each other’s life projects, private property on these scarce resources looks like the best solution. Why is that?

Well, what would be the alternative? It seems the only alternative is either some form of collective ownership, or no ownership and the right of the strongest, or a rule that no one uses the recourse at all. I am not going to spend much time arguing why the last two solutions are bad, as that seems pretty obvious. In both cases, people would have massive interferences with their projects in life, either by not being able to use resources at all, or by constantly having to fear for the future of their projects.

But collective ownership also seems like a worse solution to private property. As we have seen above, collective ownership cannot mean that everyone enjoys the benefits of a resource or product equally. It is merely a different way of deciding, which individuals can use it. This could come in various forms. It could be decided democratically, in which case the minority never gets to engage in their projects in life. It could be by throwing a dice and let luck decide, in which case only the lucky get to engage in their favourite projects. Or it could be a rotation system, in which case everyone can occasionally realise their favourite project, but most of the time, we would be condemned to help others fulfilling theirs.

Private property seems superior to all of these solutions to maximise liberty. With private property, everyone can do what they like with their belongings. That way they can just pursue their projects as they like with at least some resources. That, on its own, makes it the clear liberty maximising solution out of all the other known solutions.

But there are extra benefits. The beauty of this solution is that no one is stuck with the property they already have. If you require a resource that is important to a project of yours, you can make the current owner an offer for that resource. The more important the project is for you, the more you are likely to bit for the resource you need. And the more you bit, the more likely you are to obtain ownership of it.

That way, markets have a tendency to get resources into the hands of people that have the most use for them. Consequently, these resources get used most effectively. In addition to that, private property also offers incentives to come up with solutions to make desirable resources and products less scarce. As a result, a side effect of private property is that it actually reduces the scarcity, which is at the centre of why we have this problem in the first place. No other solution has this extra benefit. It is these extra benefits which even make people support the libertarian solution who are not primarily interested in liberty.

What does this mean to our initial question, whether historical injustice justifies redistribution of wealth, or in other words taxation? It seems clear to me that if an individual can show a historic claim on a concrete property, then that needs to be respected.

Short of that however, what we want is that people have access to the resources they require for their important projects in life. Over time, free markets tend towards that solution. This is true independent of how resources came into private ownership. To put it differently, even if there is non libertarian property at the start, as in the example of royals owning land, over time, the right people are going to become the owners of the resources they need. Markets are great in solving problems, and they even solve the problem of illegitimate property over time.

The recent history of Zimbabwe is a good example of the relevance of this insight. It would be hard to argue that the white farm owners, who were owning most of the land in the country until not too long ago, acquired their farms with legitimate means. They indeed stole it from the locals. Because of the historical injustice, the Mugabe government started to randomly, meaning without any concrete individual historical claims, to redistribute these farms among their supporters. Did this make these new owners rich and happy? Not really. Few of them had any idea about farming. If they had had better farming skills than the white owners, they could have made the latter a very attractive offer to take over the farms on the market. But farming was not really any of their projects in life. The result is that the land changed ownership from people who had use for it to people who had no use for it. Zimbabwe went from being a big food exporter to starvation as a result. Everyone’s projects in life, except maybe for a small group of ruling class members, were disrupted.

Contrary to the myth, private property does not protect a class of wealthy people and their interests. It is a tool that serves everyone to pursue their interests in life. In the process, we can constantly see poor people becoming wealthy and wealthy people becoming poor. That means that property changes hands from people who cannot handle it to people who can. Even though, some people might go from wealthy to poor, overall everyone gets richer. Within this process, people actually have a very good chance of pursuing their most important projects in life. That means that private property on scarce, desired resources advances the cause of individual liberty better than any other known mechanism of distributing usage rights on these resources. It is unclear, what taxes have to add to all of this. They are no solution to the underlying problem of scarcity. In fact they make it worse.

Lew Rockwell’s Problem with Freedom

Lew Rockwell is a big name in the libertarian movement. He was close to Murry Rothbard, worked for Ron Paul early on and most importantly he founded the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn Alabama of which he is still the chairman. It is probably thanks to the latter that the austrian school is enjoying a revival. So there is a lot to like about the man. And I for one thought for a long time that the Mises Institute really is the centre of the real revolutionary libertarian movement. I particularly liked the fact that after 9/11, the Mises Institute was one of the few remaining sane voices within all the statist war propaganda. That unfortunately was not the norm among libertarians, many of which seemed to had forgotten about the evils of the state and turned around to cheer for the murder machinery.

That is why LewRockwell.com, which is one of the biggest, if not the biggest libertarian blog on the internet was on my daily reading list for many years. In the last couple of years however, I found myself increasingly estranged from what is going on in this particular circle of libertarians. There have always been blog posts that made me scratch my head. But nothing so severe that it could not be tolerated. For example, there were repeatedly articles that portrayed the theory of evolution as some sort of state education conspiracy that would not have a chance on the free market of ideas. Another strange meme was that carbohydrates are not healthy and that is why the state is recommending it. One of the more dangerous ideas the side was pushing was opposition to vaccination. And all this under the banner of ‘anti-war, anti-state, pro free market’. What do these issues have to do with that?

The blog is not an open platform on which everyone can write. All articles are subject to editorial decisions. It is also not really a place for open debates in which every side of an argument is presented. To the contrary the header makes very clear what the bias of the opinions presented is. Only on a few issues one can even read a pro and a con. But even then it is usually clear which side the editor wants the reader to take. Given all that, one wonders why these strange issues are being pushed.

But whatever the reason, these things never bothered me too much for the simple reason that I consider them to be private and LewRockwell.com never really suggested that as a libertarian you have to have a certain opinion on these issues. The fact that debate is not really encouraged however, is something that I, as someone who likes ideas never really felt comfortable about. I am perfectly ok with a libertarian propaganda site. The idea that it is possible to report politics neutrally is bogus anyway. But even within libertarianism there are many issues that need to be debated. If that debate does not take place, one might end up as a dogmatic organisation that will lead its members into a wrong direction. And I think this is to a small degree happening at the Mises Institute as there seem to be a number of issues that aren’t really been discussed there.

One issue that is a little bit more important than your diet or creationism on which Lew Rockwell gets it completely wrong in my view is immigration. LewRockwell.com puts out article after article after article condemning the idea that the free movement of people should be supported by Libertarians. The arguments for this basically come from Hans Herman Hoppe and are repeated in every article that is published. The hope seems to be that since the arguments are wrong, and wrong they are indeed, repeating them will make them stick with at least some people.

Lew Rockwell himself just wrote an article in this series, that was published on 10th November on his website. The piece is called ‘‘Open Borders: A Libertarian Reappraisal’ and once again we mainly hear Hoppe’s arguments repeated. I am not going to go through all of the arguments again. I have done so in a previous article with the title ‘‘. In a nutshell the argumentation claims that supporting the state in controlling immigration is self defence. We don’t have a free market at the moment, but closed borders are closer to market result than open borders. Since immigrants have access to welfare and public spaces, they represent a threat to the property of the people inside the borders.

If that was a legitimate argument against immigration, we for example could also argue in favour of libertarian birth licensing laws. After all, as long as the welfare state exists we cannot allow people to just freely reproduce. Some of these children will grow up to become welfare recipients. Even worse, the state is subsidising certain people to become parents. Therefore, as long as we have a welfare system, libertarians cannot advocate freedom in getting children. As long as the state exists, the state needs to make sure that everyone who wants to become a parent will most likely be able to bring these kids up without becoming welfare recipients. Is that really a libertarian argument? I don’t think so. If it were, libertarianism would become useless. With the logic of this argument, pretty much any state action can be justified.

The interesting thing about Rockwell’s article however is that he is going a little bit further than Hoppe. He has this interesting idea that libertarianism is not about freedom, but about private property. To be fair, Hoppe says this too, but not quite as explicitly as Rockwell who writes:

“Some libertarians have assumed that the correct libertarian position on immigration must be “open borders,” or the completely unrestricted movement of people. Superficially, this appears correct: surely we believe in letting people go wherever they like! But hold on a minute. Think about “freedom of speech,” another principle people associate with libertarians. Do we really believe in freedom of speech as an abstract principle? That would mean I have the right to yell all during a movie, or the right to disrupt a Church service, or the right to enter your home and shout obscenities at you. What we believe in are private property rights.”

There are two major errors in this argument. Firstly, he is giving the terms “open borders” and “freedom of speech” a meaning that it does not have. “Open borders” does not mean the completely unrestricted movement of people. It usually means to open state borders. That is nothing else but to say that the demand is to get the government out of the way. The same is true for “freedom of speech”. This has always meant that there are no legal restrictions on expressing certain opinions. It has never meant to have the right to use other people’s resources to express what you have to say. But even if there were people who used it that way, libertarians definitely do not use it that way.

Second and more importantly, Rockwell basically implies that there is a clash between libertarianism and freedom. He explicitly says freedom is not the main issue of Libertarianism. Instead, according to Rockwell, it is all about private property. He argues that if there is a clash between freedom and property, Libertarians have to prefer property. Think about that. We have a leading libertarian who argues that we don’t need freedom, we need private property and presenting those two as being somehow opposed to each other. How could it come to that? Why should there be a contradiction between freedom and property?

To be fair to Rockwell, he is correct in so far as the vast majority of libertarians out there probably would agree that libertarianism is all about private property. I think this is fundamentally wrong and a big problem for this movement. Libertarianism should be about liberty. That is not to say that I am not in favour of certain forms of private property. But property is a consequence of liberty. And only property concepts that follow from liberty are libertarian. As such it is by no means clear that, as Rockwell suggests everything will be privately owned in a libertarian society.

However, to understand the connection between property and liberty one needs to first have a theory of what liberty is. And unfortunately most libertarians, including Rockwell don’t have such a theory. If libertarians don’t understand what liberty is, how are they going to explain it to others? This is a problem that I was made first aware of by libertarian philosopher Jan Lester. And I think he is correct. To explain why I think he is correct however deserves a separate article.

Despite the tremendous service Lew Rockwell and the Mises Institute have done for Libertarianism, they appear to be theoretically muddled on certain issues. That in itself is not much of a problem. No one has all the answers. I certainly do not. But in oder to make progress one needs to have an open debate on these issues. And that does not really seem to happen at the Mises Institute. Or if it happens then only behind closed doors. I cannot see it as an outsider. That is why the Institute for lack of a better word increasingly appears to me to be a little bit cultish. And that is a real pity.

Stop giving in to terrorism, stand up to it!

It is little wonder that over a decade after the “war on terror” was declared terrorism is still going strong. Indeed, it is having rather a successful recruitment drive. It is not just that it provides a fulfilling ideology for young men and women to cling to, it is just so damnably effective! I do not refer to the people they have murdered, or the acts of terror they have committed, because actually these are few and far between and most attempts are thwarted. Yes, I know it is easy to forget that isn’t it? Statistically you have more chance of dying of food poisoning, or in a train crash or being drowned in the bath than of being killed in an act of terrorism. It is extremely unlikely to happen, you may as well worry about debris from space landing on your head. Yet something as statistically insignificant as death by terrorism can spread fear and hysteria through a populace, and allow a government to get away with investing vast amounts of money, enacting laws, removing liberties and declaring wars just to supposedly protect us from it.

The “war on terror” was declared in response to the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11th 2001, could the terrorists have hoped for a better response from the leading nations of the west? Trillions were spent, and thousands of lives lost, in fighting (and losing) disastrous wars. To defend “our values” against terrorists our governments have systematically betrayed them with paranoid authoritarianism. We fight the “war on terror” with vast increases in state power that destroys the liberty of our law abiding citizens. We are losing the war because our response to terrorism is to be afraid, to turn on each other and to betray the virtues that set us apart.

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Will our apparent defiance last?

Terrorism only works when we allow it to. The Islamists who murdered the Charlie Hebdo staff claim another victory every time the media censor themselves by refusing to show the images that inspired the attack. How can the media properly report on this topic without printing the cartoons? They are conspicuous by their absence and self-censorship makes a bold political statement that read: you win terrorists and what is more, you were right. These double standards concede to the Islamist murderer’s demand that their deity be given special treatment, this must end now.

Charlie Hebdo was an easy target, why? Because they were isolated and stuck out like a sore thumb. They were making a stand and barely any other members of the so-called “free press” stood with them. If they had done so, and collectively, they could have spread the risk and faced the enemy down. Unfortunately, cowardice is part of a long term pattern and every time a great shock to the system occurs there is talk of it being a line in the sand that will change things fundamentally. I would dearly like to believe that liberal western countries, and their media and artistic industries, are going to wake up and stand up for their supposed values that they allegedly hold dear but their track record is poor.

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Rushdie has responded to the campaign against him with bravery and quiet dignity

If the hysterical response of Islamists to the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, and the subsequent terror campaign against him and anyone affiliated with the book, didn’t inspire liberal countries to stand up for what they believe in, what will? So much for “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”, the author was instead criticised by many cultural and political figures at the time for his ‘insensitivity’. Rusdie has lived in some degree of fear for his life ever since but (thankfully) has been successfully protected, others have not been so lucky. The Italian translator of The Satanic Verses, Ettore Capriolo, was stabbed and seriously wounded, the Japanese translator Hitoshi Igarashi was murdered. The books Norwegian publisher Willian Bygaar survived an attempted murder in Oslo. In 1993 a Turkish cultural festival was set upon by a mob of Salafists aiming to murder Azin Nesin who had tried to get the novel published in Turkey. 37 people died, mostly intellectuals, artists and musicians but also several of the hotel staff.

That was a real test for of our resolve, a test that so many people sadly failed. Instead of defending freedom of expression and seeing through the Islamic world’s reaction as the ludicrous hysteria it was, some chose to criticise the quality of the book (as if that was even the point), some criticised the author for being offensive, some criticised the fact that the taxpayer would be funding the author’s security. Book burnings on the streets of Bradford, death threats for the writing of a novel, an author having to go into hiding, and people were still saying that perhaps he had it coming for being provocative and perhaps he should have known better. How sad. You can trace our cultural malaise back to 1989, that was when the era of the intolerant offence culture began, it has yet to come to an end.

18 years later, when Rushdie was up for a knighthood in 2007, there was predictable outrage in the Islamic world and amongst a minority of British Islamist lunatics who took to the streets to burn books, effigies of the author and the union flag. Even more predictable, and regrettable, was the cowardice and hand wringing evident in the prominent protests of some British politicians and intellectuals. Of course Rushdie had many staunch defenders,but the very fact that the question of “is this an insult to Muslims? was raised in response to the knighthood was a sign of severe timidity, and a complete misunderstanding of what was at stake. It was a potent reminder of the sad fact that a novel like The Satanic Verses simply would not get published now.

For decades now our artistic and journalistic culture has been constrained. How many other novels have been rejected because the publisher didn’t want to provoke the rage of terrorists? How many novelists have censored themselves? How many film makers have opted to play it safe? I don’t ask that we collectively and deliberately do what we can to provoke the Islamic world, I simply ask that we stop being afraid. That we stop making that possible offence our primary concern, that we stop censoring ourselves and that when another test of our resolve comes, we refuse to be intimidated. When Charlie Hebdo’s offices were bombed in 2011, they reprinted the cartoons to show that they would not back down in the face of terrorism; that takes courage. Because so few other people showed that courage the magazine and its staff was left to make a lonely stand.

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All that madness, for these silly cartoons…

After the uproar over the crude, but pretty innocuous, 2005 Danish cartoons no other major newspaper or magazine in Europe reprinted them. After the bombing of the Charlie Hebdo offices in 2011 the same whimpering cowardice prevailed. After the Paris shootings last week many failed the test once again. There were a few notable examples but at this stage it is difficult to believe that the tragedy will trigger the cultural shift that is so necessary.

This is not a “clash of civilisations”, that phrase is overblown, a tired neo-con relic from the build up to our foolish military campaigns. This battle is ideological, this war is cultural. We have to stand up for ourselves and flex our cultural muscles. Our response to terrorism should be proportionate and unyielding. We must refuse to be panicked into a knee jerk overreaction in which we enact further illiberal laws. This generational struggle is temporary, but the virtues of our culture can last forever if we refuse to surrender them. If anything, we should be repealing laws; defending our freedom by increasing it. The media should reach a consensus in which it refuses to be gagged and stops censoring itself, if a picture of Muhammed is central to the news report, print or show the damn thing!

Above all else I pray for an unrestrained artistic renaissance. This is a time when people are being murdered because of cartoons, when a few loons can gag the mass media. When small terrorist groups can send the whole western world into a spasm of war and paranoid delusion. When disillusioned young people are being indoctrinated with a radical ideology and turning to murder and terror, when a stagnant religion shackles the mind of vast swathes of British Muslims and hinders their integration. When the hypocritical governments of the west are ever expanding and using a climate of fear to increase and consolidate their power. Now is the time for untrammelled plain speaking, criticism, analysis and satire. Come authors, poets, film makers, artists and writers, all, please heed the call!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#JeSuisCharlie? Let’s not get distracted from the real fight for freedom

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The attack inspired a mass of sanctimony

The first I heard of the Paris shootings was in a text message from a friend. I promptly went online and came across the horrifying video of the police officer being murdered as he lay wounded in the street. So my first impression was not of any wider implications but simply the empathy I felt for the helpless creature lying on the pavement. Later my mood began to shift towards outrage.

What did I do then? Well, the only thing I could do to offer a token gesture of solidarity; I took to social media. I tweeted cartoons of Muhammed and expressed my defiance. After a while it all got a bit tiring and I realised how futile and vacuous it was. For me to tweet the offending pictures is not brave and it achieves very little. I began to feel a little embarrassed by my own misplaced reactionary enthusiasm. My total obscurity provides an anonymity that means that I am not placing myself in even the tiniest bit of danger by my actions. It is not pleasant feeling useless and insignificant at such a seemingly pivotal time as this.

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After a few days of calm reflection I began to feel trepidatious. The mass outpouring of grief and supposed “solidarity” has led to a collective convulsion in France that has spread across Europe, creating a conformity of thought and lulling us into a false sense of security. There has been too much back slapping as we congratulate ourselves on being beacons of free expression and liberty, it is easy to claim this in comparison with Islamic countries, but in the aftermath we have to calmly check our hypocrisy and our priorities.

Our cherished rights have been steadily eroded for some time now and are under serious and immediate threat. This threat comes from our own governments and as we wonder fearfully where the terrorists will strike next it is they who will come to attack liberty, exploiting our fear and striking when we are at our most vulnerable. Despite the sheer horror of the Paris shootings this must be where our scrutiny and scepticism is mainly focussed, not on Islamists.

Wounded patriotism have inspired a show of unity and much self-congratulatory rhetoric about France being a beacon of liberty. We should not let the rush of emotion accept this without scepticism. Does a free country ban the wearing of certain items of clothing? Does a free country ban you from praying in the street, a serious curb on religious expression? I think it perfectly fair and reasonable that private companies can make their own decisions on such rules, and the face should not be concealed in court, but it a serious violation of individual freedom for the state to dictate that you cannot wear signs of religious affiliation (be it a crucifix necklace or a turban) in schools or face veils in the street. I personally do not like the sight of a niqab but banning something just because we don’t like it is not a liberal thing to do.

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It is heartening to see millions marching in the streets in an act of defiance, but it shouldn’t take a massacre to inspire people to fight for their rights. France, it should not be forgotten, restricts freedom of expression with some of the strictest hate speech, defamation, privacy and libel laws in the western world.

The privacy law in France encourages self-censorship because the publication of private details of an individual’s life without consent is a punishable offence. Unlike in Britain there are few public interest clauses. Combine this with French libel laws, which heavily favour those in positions of power (losing a libel case against a public official brings a punitive fine of €45,000 as opposed to €12,000 when a case is lost against a member of the public), and it is easy to see why an unhealthy respect for the privacy of public figures is instilled in French media culture. This too often leaves the powerful beyond media scrutiny and discourages public interest journalism that investigates corruption and impropriety in the lives of politicians.

France has some of the strictest hate speech laws in the EU which go far beyond preventing incitement to violence. Once you start arresting people for simply saying things, or tweeting things you create a censorial instinct that will inevitably stretch beyond the fringes and into the mainstream, making curbs (or attempts to curb) on free speech habitual and seemingly acceptable. It has been little discussed since the Paris shootings but hate speech laws were used to harass Charlie Hebdo for years. Charges were lodged against the magazine in 2006-07 in response to the reprinting of the notorious Danish cartoons, in that instance the court ruled in the magazines favour but notably Jacques Chirac was a cheerleader for the case: “the convictions of someone else, in particular religious convictions, should be avoided”, he said. The magazine would again come under government pressure in 2012 when it reprinted Muhammed cartoons in response to the protests against the film The Innocence of Muslims with Prime Minister Jean-Mar Ayarault stating that freedom of speech is “under control of the courts”. The unity marches are uncomfortably close to being a rally behind the French state, rather than millions of people making a stand for liberty and free expression.

Britain will “never give up freedom of speech”, said David Cameron in his defiant response. But in Britain we are breathtakingly complacent about our wpid-dsc_0395.jpgrights and it is a bit rich for our politicians to suddenly talk like staunch defenders of liberty. It is fantastic to see people gather in Trafalgar square to hold a vigil for the murdered staff, and attend rallies in the name of free speech. Still, I can’t help that think, again, that no one should have to be murdered for people to start paying attention and celebrating and fighting for our freedoms. If the people rallied together in great numbers against anti-terror legislation, secret courts and RIPA (to name just a few of many illiberal measures) I might have faith in the sincerity and staying power of the current enthusiasm. Instead I fear it is temporary hysteria and back slapping that will ultimately achieve very little before we return to a “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” consensus.

Let us not forget that this “free” country of ours is the land of secret courts, mass surveillance and detention without charge where we have in recent years flirted with the introduction of ID cards and state regulation of the press. The state routinely bans people with “controversial” things to say from entering the country and arrests people for silly tweets (or “malicious communications“).   It is not just the state that disgraces liberty, our university campuses are now a hotbed for the authoritarian left which seeks to shut down debate and ban anything it deems unacceptable. It is quite clear that Charlie Hebdo could not operate in Britain, in no time at all it would be banned from all student unions and be subject to the NUS “no platform” policy, its offices would host protests by Unite Against Facism and Hope Not Hate when it wasn’t being picketed by Islamists. Before long the magazine’s staff would be visited by the police and roundly criticised by hand wringing politicians. Je Suis Charlie? Get real.

Now is the time for a wake up call. Stop looking for Islamists under the bed and start defending freedom from the those pretending they are defending it. The PM and Home Secretary didn’t miss and opportunity for political point scoring and phoney outrage when Nigel Farage made some rather innocuous comments about the “very, very small” number of Islamists that represent a “fifth column” in British society (isn’t this a good week for the truth and free expression?). This was a distraction from the deeply cynical comments from Andrew Parker, the head of MI5, who leapt on the chance to fear monger and lobby for greater powers for our security services. Cameron accused Farage of using the tragedy for political ends before announcing plans to resurrect the “snoopers charter” while the shock is still raw.

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A far more potent threat to liberty

I’ve no doubt that this will put wind in Theresa May’s sails. Will the Paris shootings soften us up for Extremism Orders? Astonishing measures that would remove the right to freedom of expression (without presenting evidence to justify such an action) when the state has a “reasonable belief” that the accused individual may “disrupt democracy” or incite racial or religious hatred, or cause public disorder? When the Home Secretary proposes a plan to legislate for thought crime, I do not think I am being unreasonable when I say she is a far graver threat to liberty than an Islamist lunatic.

As the collective trauma dies down I hope that, like me, people are jolted out of their initial reaction and re-focus on the real fight for freedom which is not against Islamist terror, but authoritative government and our flourishing intolerant offence culture . The staff of Charlie Hebdo died because they defiantly exercised their right to freedom of expression, but it is not a crazed gunman taking our rights that we should be worried about, it is us a nation giving those right away as we slip back into complacency that should concern us all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The European Arrest Warrant: a useful tool (for a tyrant)

The erosion of liberty continues apace. Watching it happen over time is like observing the crumbling white cliffs growing ever weaker as the waves crash into them. It is generally a gradual, continuous process but eventually comes the moment when a great chunk crumbles into the sea and is washed utterly away. Today is such a day; a sad day for Britain and a shaming one for Parliament. Most distressing of all is how few people are aware of it, and how even fewer seem to care. Make no mistake; this is a significant time in British history, one that will be studied far into the future. We are in the late stages of a long process in which we are willingly surrendering the independence of our legal system. It is the Conservative Party that is leading us down the dark, illiberal path to subjugation. For shame.

David Cameron has tried to portray himself as some kind of British bulldog fighting our corner in Brussels, he even disingenuously claimed to have secured the “greatest ever return of powers to the UK”.  In May the Government opted our of 100 trivial criminal justice measures that have already been duplicated by national legislation or had never actually applied in the UK in the first place. The 35 measures that the Government have opted back into are the most dangerous and illiberal and consist of a large-scale transfer of sovereignty to the European Union. It is nothing less than a step towards the usurpation of the English legal system, which is necessary if we are to be fully integrated into the political state and be part of a common EU criminal justice system. Of all these measures there are none more potentially tyrannical than the European Arrest Warrant.

Not only does is it a total violation of our sovereignty, meaning we have to surrender our own citizens to other EU states on request. It is also another dangerous power for the British state to use and abuse at will. Only a fool trusts in the fear mongering line of defence that the EAW is an absolute necessity to defend us against the great bogeymen of our time, terrorists and paedophiles. It was possible to extradite terror suspects and sex offenders before the European Arrest Warrant was created and would be if were to remove ourselves from its jurisdiction. Furthermore, only a tiny amount of the people arrested under the EAW are accused of terrorism. Opting out of the EAW simply means that we would revert to having extradition agreements that we had before, the kind we have with many non-EU states

How often is the line carted out that the EAW is a “useful” or “essential tool” that the police and security services need in their arsenal? It gives the impression that the British authorities are deft craftsmen who will only use the “useful” tool when absolutely necessary and appropriate. One of the primary considerations when restraining the state is to think of how a certain power, or law, can go beyond whatever its original purpose was and lead to abuse or misuse in the future. An example might be when the social services and police hysterically overreact when a mother and father decide to remove their son from NHS care and seek treatment elsewhere. Oh well, he was only traumatised a little, and they were only held without cause, evidence or trial for a few day. All’s well that ends well.

This argument must be treated with the contempt is deserves. If we gave the police and security services every “useful tool” they asked for we would not have a shred of liberty left.   The same propaganda is used to justify identity cards (which would’ve sealed our identity as serfs), 90 day detention, secret courts and mass surveillance. This is to be placed in the file which reads “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear”– the mantra of the slave.

Under the European Arrest Warrant no evidence is required to justify extradition and in any case British courts have absolutely no power to consider whatever evidence there may be. It is a trivial bureaucratic matter, in other words, a simple form has to be filled in and then a British citizen can be carted off to a court in a foreign judicial system. That’s it, plain and simple; our centuries old protections of liberty can be dismissed arbitrarily because of a vague accusation made in another EU state without any evidence being provided. Not a peep of protest from EU fanatics, neither from the so-called “liberal” left who caused an uproar when the USA issued an extradition order for Gary McKinnon but raise no objections about the EAW when its tyrannical sights were set on Andrew Symeou or the King family or Keith Hainsworth (and there are many lower profile injustices). Incidentally, if Gary McKinnon was wanted in an EU country he would have been cuffed and extradited hastily back in 2002.

Extradition between countries is often necessary, however, it is surely only right and correct that before the suspect is extradited a court should consider if there is a case to answer? There would be an uproar if somebody was held on remand in Britain without any evidence of wrongdoing, how can anybody (let alone a self-styled conservative or liberal) support a situation in which someone can be dragged off to another country without a court in Britain being able to look at the evidence?

This is the crux of the matter. This European Arrest Warrant is a disgraceful interference in our internal affairs, a further blow to liberty and a violation of our national independence. It is one step further towards a pan-European criminal justice system. Theresa May’s amendments and guarantees are flimsy and it is the EU parliament that decides when they apply, not our own. Britain has, or rather had, some great pioneering traditions of liberty; Habeas Corpus, the presumption of innocence and the guarantee of a fair trial by jury to name but a few. Today in parliament they have been disgraced and we have been betrayed.

The government wins phoney European Arrest Warrant vote

On the 9th July David Cameron boasted that the Government had “just achieved the greatest ever return of powers to the UK” from the European Union. Unfortunately, our Prime Minister often resembles an oily salesman as he routinely misrepresents the truth for short term political gain. The pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (the slyly renamed EU constitution) was dropped after ratification and now he has been exposed as being opportunistically disingenuous on the subject of the EU once again.

The Prime Minster had explicitly promised to hold a vote on the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) but this has turned out to be at worst a lie and at best a serious bending of the truth. Not long after his latest hollow pledge it transpired that the Members of the House were not to get a separate vote on whether or not to rejoin the EAW at all. Last night in the House of Commons the anger of Tory backbenchers was palpable after Speaker John Bercow confirmed that there would be no such individual vote. Instead they were to vote on a mere 11 of the 35 European justice measures, and that did not include the arrest warrant.

As frustration spread, the Tory whips were in a frenzy shoring up support and David Cameron had to rush back from the Lord Mayor’s banquet to try and avoid humiliation. Theresa May, who has badly mishandled this whole situation, insisted that this vote was, in effect, to be an endorsement or rejection of the EAW. After a night of murky politics and dishonesty the bafflingly overrated Home Secretary bungled to victory. The motion that the Speaker insists was not on the EAW and Theresa May says sort of was passed 464 to 38.

And so it goes, that the Conservative Party, aided and abetted by the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats, is again to shun the opportunity to conserve our national sovereignty and liberty. Instead, a large scale transfer of sovereignty back to the EU is to be implemented after the government avoided a potentially embarrassing defeat with methods of pure chicanery. It was a shambolic episode in which the Tory leadership treated their party members, their MP’s and parliament with contempt.

Why did David Cameron make this promise if it was impossible to keep? And if it was possible to hold a separate vote, who decided against holding it? If the government could have held a separate vote (if it was procedurally possible) then it has acted disgracefully in not doing so and forcing its will on parliament and the country. Could it be that they wanted to force through the EAW and believed any revolt would be small and manageable? The confusion that followed has proven this to be a mistake. These political tricks have left a bitter taste in my mouth and the story is now one of Tory Party leadership deception on matters of the European Union, again.

The Ukip campaign literature for the Rochester by-election writes itself…