When the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, refused to sing our national anthem at the Battle of Britain memorial service, there was outrage from many quarters. Is refusing to sing one’s national anthem necessarily disrespectful however? If I were French I would refuse to join in the Marseilles, due to its historic association with Jacobinism and all that goes with it (nationalism, militarism, egalitarianism, secularism, centralisation etc.) But one would be mistaken if one concluded that, therefore, I did not love my country, because I would. One’s country is akin to one’s family, true you do not choose which country you are born into, but you love it all the same (besides, there is much in French history and culture to love). It is far better that Mr Corbyn abstain from singing the anthem, rather than ignore his conscience and join in, in bad faith. However, the matter of his comportment is another matter. The service was to commemorate the fallen of the Battle of Britain (the one part of the ‘Good War’ I would consider genuinely so) yet the Labour leader could not even dress properly. Though I cannot say for certain, I suspect that Mr Corbyn follows the predictable received wisdom about the ‘War Against Fascism’ – which makes his failure to show due respect to the fallen all the more egregious.
Most libertarians see homosexual marriage as a simple case study – i.e. it should be made legal. But is the problem so simple? Civil marriage, an act of matrimony recognised by the state through an official of the government, was introduced into England and Wales in 1753. The ceremony was required to take place in a religious setting (a provision dropped in 1836) recognised by the state, i.e. the Church of England, the Quakers or in a Jewish ceremony. Needless to say, a Catholic sacramental marriage was forbidden. Indeed, the drive for civil marriage was widely seen across the continent as a way to undermine the Catholic Church (in France religious marriage are still not recognised by law). Previously, marriage had been left entirely to civil society but it, like so many aspects of life, came to be absorbed by the Planners in the interest of uniformity and rationalisation. So when we say we are legalising homosexual marriage, we mean that we are extending civil marriage to include same-sex couples. In other words, simply making such arrangements legal still leaves the government as the presiding officer over the institution of marriage. It is entirely conceivable that leviathan may one day wield this power so as to compel dissenting churches to recognise homosexual unions (see the way the argument over homosexuality more broadly has progressed – from its legalisation in the 60s, to civil partnerships to marriage. At each stage the next step was ruled out but happened all the same). I suggest it makes more sense, from a libertarian perspective, to say that marriage should be removed from the state’s grip altogether. That is to say, once again, matrimony should be the preserve solely of civil society – thus granting homosexuals the negative right to marry whilst enabling orthodox churches to defend their ancient practices.
In the wake of the shootings, eight months ago at the time of writing, it became de rigueur to draw an indelible line linking the atrocity to the principle of free speech. It became necessary to demonstrate our solidarity with the publication so as to reconfirm our commitment to this principle. God rest the victims of this tragedy, but I have arrived at a different conclusion. What we had was a violent crime (more assassination than terrorism per se, though there can obviously exist overlap between the two) as opposed to the suppression of free speech. Traditionally this right is conceived in negative terms (i.e. it is something you may not be prevented from exercising, rather than something which others must be actively involved in guaranteeing). If somebody was to insult you, causing you to strike them, this would not constitute a breach of their right. Police are not on hand to guarantee their ability to insult you. Clearly the massacre was related to the subject of speech and expression (and doubtless the perpetrators took a dim view to the right under law) but it was, principally, an act of murder. If the victims had been random, and the murderers not motivated by any particular cause or creed, the severity of the act would not have been diminished. I am afraid what solidarity I have for the publication extends to the victims, their families and the narrowly conceived parameters of free speech.
The Oxford Online Dictionary succinctly defines sovereignty as “Supreme power or authority”. As a discreet political theory, sovereignty emerged in the 17th century and had no better advocate, arguably, than Thomas Hobbes. In Hobbes’ view natural society was chaotic thus required individuals to surrender their basic prerogatives to one supreme authority, for the sake of security and order. This argument contrasted vividly with the polycentric and radically decentralised medieval Res Publica which Europe was then departing from. Previously no one source of authority could reliably claim universal jurisdiction over a polity as it had to contend with scores of competing bodies (guilds, towns, aristocracy, charters and most importantly Holy Mother Church). Later we come to see the rise to supremacy of ‘divine right’ monarchs, in England then Britain’s case, a sovereign parliament and later the whole ‘nation’ with Jacobinism. Under this schema the sovereign body was the ultimate authority and could not be gainsaid by another. England’s Civil War is commonly portrayed as despotic royalists on the one side with freedom-loving parliamentarians on the other – the truth is that both factions competed over the location of sovereignty, not its extent. The concept is inimical to a decentralised political order, as it presumes that smaller entities derive their existence from the sufferance of the sovereign entity (thus their autonomy can be justly abrogated). Sovereignty can be a helpful concept in ensuring that political decisions are not made more remotely than the level of the state (i.e. national sovereignty) and in the U.S. case where (according to the Compact Theory) sovereignty is to be located in the several states (i.e. the smaller associations ordinarily subjugated under the notion of sovereignty). This is another case where a pre-modern approach to politics can yield favourable results for the liberty-inclined.
Impartiality, like the virtues of honesty, truthfulness and integrity with which it can be associated, is a worthy aim for a journalist. However, given the imperfectability of fallen man, perhaps it is unwise to vest a single journalistic entity with enormous privilege on the simple trust that it will report the news with impartiality. And yet this is precisely the arrangement we face with the BBC. A poll tax is levied on viewers to guarantee the Corporation an income which it doesn’t have to earn by competing in the marketplace. All such publicly funded entities have their own inherent failings, but one trusted to shape our understanding of current events and culture is uniquely hazardous. The institutional bias located within the BBC is, to be frank, glaring and I find it hard to see how anyone but wishful thinkers can see otherwise. There is and has been a rotating door between the Corporation and such news organs as the Guardian and Independent whose partiality cannot be denied. Whilst we must insist on integrity and truthfulness, it is on balance wiser to admit our individual weltanschauungen, rather than reward unrealistic assurances with unprecedented privilege.
Decentralisation is a key ingredient in limiting government. When a territory includes numerous competing legal centres it creates pressure on those bodies to establish systems that encourage citizens and businesses to remain within them. Furthermore, the prospect that despotism will emerge among a number of separate bodies is harder to imagine than would be the case with a single centralised entity. Traditions and local patriotism are not only good in their own right but can buttress this process of decentralisation. If more people were strongly attached to their locality and its cultural and linguistic peculiarities they would more eagerly resist the central government’s attempts co-opt and submerge them. By way of an example take British opposition to integration with the European Union. Many, rightly, fear that our Island’s unique characteristics will be scrubbed out if the process of assimilation continues. This is as true for the consolidated nation state as for the constituent elements that were unified to create them.
The atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic State against prisoners of war, western journalists and local minorities have inspired many to call for a military intervention to stop them. Extreme revulsion in the face of these crimes is perfectly natural, but if one is not moved by the deontological case against aggressive warfare then perhaps one ought to consider a utilitarian one. Before countenancing an intervention, come to a determination as to whether or not the present crisis is a product in some fashion of a prior interference. If this is the case, then one ought probably to conclude that interventions in foreign lands have unintended consequences that cannot be factored into the calculations of the interveners. In this respect foreign policy is alike to domestic; government interference has unforeseen consequences which can often be the opposite of those desired. Societies and human interactions are far too complex to be manipulated by central planners and this applies both at home and abroad.