Russell Taylor – In praise of freedom

I hate politics. I only talk and write about it because it’s such a nuisance, like backache or a gypsy camp at the end of your garden. It ought to be something that happens in the background: the business of keeping our streets safe and clean, maintaining our borders, protecting our interests abroad – and that’s about it. Instead, it has become a drag and a drain, with all the mainstream parties seemingly in favour of an overbearing technocratic state. Politics is no longer the art of the possible; it’s the art of the obstacle.

To those who work in and around politics, it’s a fascinating game of intrigue and drama, played by an anointed elite, whose duty – nay, right – it is to run the country with as little interference from the electorate as possible. They would have us believe the nation is like a cruise liner, and that we are the passengers and they are the crew. The running of the ship is nothing for us to worry our pretty little heads about. All those levers and dials are beyond the comprehension of untutored rubes like us, so it’s probably best that we head back to the all-you-can-eat buffet and leave it to the experts.

There’s nothing new in all this. People have been working this grift since the first village elders claimed to be spokesmen for their local gods. John F. Kennedy spelt it out when he said that “most of the problems that we now face are technical problems [that] deal with questions which are now beyond the comprehension of most men”. More recently, Western politicians have assured us that human relations are impossible without a government referee, that unregulated commerce spreads misery and destruction, and that the economy is a balancing act that only smart guys in high places can manage.

Underlying all this is an assumption that problems require top-down solutions. And it’s just that: an assumption. Most problems can be solved more effectively by individuals working together voluntarily for mutual gain, but this option doesn’t serve the interests of statists, so they sweep under the rug. And instead of owning up to their bias, they claim they’re just cool-headed pragmatists, who have no particular yen for Big Government, and only favour centralised planning because that’s what the evidence recommends.

Claims of pragmatism can be found on either side of the political divide, but in reality we’re all as bad as each other. No matter what the facts tell us, we usually end up where we wanted to be all along. Conservatives lean towards solutions that preserve individual freedom and liberals favour those that strengthen the state. Both will offer the pretence of being indifferent servants of the truth, but neither will allow it to lead them into hostile territory. The difference between the two camps is that the conservative bias seeks to protect a cherished human right that’s defensible as an end in itself, while the liberal bias is about…what exactly? An urge to push people around? To empower themselves by denying others a voice? It’s a difficult turd to polish, which is probably why liberals tend not to bother, preferring to present themselves as a band of dispassionate Joe Fridays: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

There are some occasions when government action is best and far more occasions when it’s not. What you consider the right option really depends on what’s important to you. If you care about freedom, prosperity and social cohesion, then history suggests you’re better off eschewing Big Government wherever possible. But liberals don’t care much for freedom, because they see it as the cause of exploitation in society and of their own emasculation. And they’re not too bothered about prosperity or social cohesion, either, unless they occur as by-products of Big Government – which they don’t, of course. Consequently, they are content to ditch the lot in favour of a larger state, which is what really gets their juices flowing. From a liberal perspective, the evidence always recommends more government, because a lack of government is always the problem. So much for pragmatism.

Leftists have changed how we understand our relationship with the state. They have acclimatised us to the idea that we are not free citizens who elect a government to administer the nation on our behalf, but participants in a collective enterprise, overseen by the government, to which we must defer for the greater good. They have propagated the myth that politics is behind everything good that happens in the world, thus presenting politicians and their house experts as indispensible. And a great many of us appear to have swallowed this bunk.

I realise this sounds like Marxist ‘false consciousness’ cobblers, but there’s no denying that the Left has form at this kind of thing. After all, these are the people who brought us political correctness – and what is that if not a successful attempt to change the way we think? In the same way, they want to normalise the statist perspective: that the will of the people is law; that the state embodies the will of the people; that our freedoms are privileges granted by the state; that the state should be directed by those who best understand the people. Needless to say, leftists think they understand us better than anyone.

I don’t believe that people are mindless drones, whose heads are easily turned by liberal propaganda; but I do believe that fear of holding the ‘wrong’ opinions, incessant repetition of the ‘right’ ones, and the shouting down of conflicting views, is a powerful combination. Belief is formed on the basis of received evidence, so if that evidence is distorted, it should come as no surprise if our beliefs are corrupted also. As long as most politicians and journalists articulate certain assumptions about the scope and scale of the state, they will have a significant influence on popular opinion.

Nowadays, the notion that we are sovereign beings with a right to self-determination seems quaint or just plain weird. Express a passion for personal freedom and you’re likely to be treated with suspicion, as someone who wants to be left in peace to do unpleasant things. Being hemmed in by rules, regulations and taxes is widely accepted as the price we pay for living in a civilised society. As long as we have a say in where we live, where we work and what we buy, we think we’re free. But freedom means choice and opportunity, and by nannying us, regulating us, spending our money and making decisions for us, the government denies us choice and opportunity, and leeches away our freedom.

It doesn’t have to be this way. These are not the necessary or acceptable costs of living in a happy modern society. They are to liberals, because they don’t care about your freedom. They want their values to be yours. They want their ideas to determine how you live. They want to keep you, coddle you and enervate you, until you are a cud-chewing husk of a human being, gazing beatifically up at them, like a dog at its owner. Contrary to what they claim, it’s quite possible to have prosperous, cohesive society without a supersized state and its technocratic overlords. We just need to relearn the skills needed to acquire one.

So what’s to be done? If you’re liberty-minded, it’s difficult to assemble the forces needed to face down Big Government without becoming what you despise; but this doesn’t mean we are powerless to act. To start with, we should let the mainstream parties know that they no longer represent us. To one degree or another, they’re all statists. Even the Tories have been schmoozed by the promise of power and liberal approval that comes from maintaining a bloated state. Big Society? What the hell was that? When politicians start repackaging voluntary civic participation as a groovy new idea they just came up with, they’ve lost any sense of what freedom looks like.

Voting opportunities only come around every few years, but we can defy liberal dogma every day by refusing to surrender to its codes of speech and thought. We should speak our minds, publish and be damned, and refuse to be cowed into adopting the ‘right’ opinions, because it’s through the closing down of debate that the Left pushes the case for more government. We must remind ourselves and others of the proper relationship between the individual and the state, and remember that there is nothing virtuous about outsourcing responsibility to people in high places. We should think twice before accepting the wisdom of state-sponsored experts, who have a vested interest in expanding the government’s remit. Above all, we should resist the apathy on which statists rely to advance their agenda. They want us not to care about what they get up to, so they can get up to more of it.

We owe it to posterity to make a stand. As Ronald Reagan put it: “Let us be sure that those who come after will say of us in our time, that in our time we did everything that could be done. We finished the race; we kept them free; we kept the faith.”

8 comments on “Russell Taylor – In praise of freedom

  1. Simon Roberts
    July 11, 2013 at 7:17 am #

    Excellent.

  2. theaustrianway
    July 11, 2013 at 7:33 am #

    Once more Russell Taylor provides the best start to a morning. Fantastic!

  3. silverminer
    July 11, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    Superb piece that. I’m coming round to the view that acts of mass civil disobedience are the only way we’ll get any change of direction. We should take every opportunity to defy the authorities, do the opposite of what they would like, throw sand into the wheels of the State and bring it grinding to a halt.

    For example, why does anyone pay their license fee? If even 10% stopped, the BBC would be broke and the Courts system would be overwhelmed. Appeal every decision, request more information, be as awkward as possible, politely of course. If you owe them £100, send them a cheque for £99.99 and make them waste their time chasing the penny. Ask for justification of all petty, pointless regulations. It drives them mad!

    I think it’s the only way. The ballot box isn’t going to sort this one although I shall keep voting UKIP and try to preach the libertarian message. They cannot govern without our consent and without our cooperation. Withdraw it.

  4. Hilton Gray
    July 12, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    Mr. Taylor, why the hell have you not got your own column in a main stream broadsheet??? You have an amazing writing style. You have very quickly become one of my favorite bloggers. James and Maggie are a good laugh, but you and Mark Steyn have a brilliant word-smithing talent.

    • Russell Taylor
      July 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

      Thanks for the kind words, Hilton. I’m sure fame and fortune await, but in the meantime I’m proud to call Bogpaper my home.

  5. smartmart2
    July 13, 2013 at 11:11 am #

    A brilliant article…again! Here’s hoping you continue for many years to write about what you believe, and when you *do* have to write what your paymasters tell you it won’t stifle this writing.

  6. smartmart2
    July 14, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    You might enjoy this. http://tinyurl.com/pvg6poh

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Steynian 480nth | Free Canuckistan! - July 11, 2013

    […] BOGPAPER– Russell Taylor – In praise of freedom; The Austrian Way: Welcome super hero Mark Carney […]

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