The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Saturday, April 28, 2012

GTN Tory Classics 4: The Economic Age

One of the things I dislike the most about contemporary politics is the exaggerated importance it attaches to economics. This is true both of those who favour economic freedom and private property on the one hand and those who believe in a state-planned economy and/or collective ownership of property on the other.

This does not mean I attach no importance to these matters. I believe in private property and in laws protecting private property. I believe that economic decisions are best made by those who will be most affected by the outcome of those decisions. For most economic decisions this amounts to the free market position - that people are themselves the best judges of what to buy and what to sell, how much to spend or ask for in a market exchange. Some economic decisions, however, must be made by the leaders of communities or the governments of countries. These are decisions whose outcome affects the entire community or country.

Examples of the first kind of economic decision include decisions as to what kind of career to train for, whether to stay in a job or look for a new one, whether to open a new business or seek employment, whether to save, invest,or spend one's income, and, if one has this option, what other than essentials to buy with one's income.

Examples of the second kind of economic decision include decisions as to whether a country needs domestic production of a particular commodity or whether it is better to rely upon foreign imports and decisions as to how much and what kind of infrastructure to build and maintain out of the public purse.

These decisions cannot be made in isolation from each other, of course. The decision a government takes, to protect its domestic iron industry, because a consistent supply of foreign iron is threatened by war, will affect the choices of those buying and selling iron and deciding whether to go into an iron-related line of work. Likewise, economic decisions at the level of a community or country, cannot properly be made without taking people's personal economic choices into consideration.

In 2009 I wrote a series of economic essays, most of which
were arguments for economic liberty and against socialism. It ended with "The Free Trade Cult", which argues that history demonstrates that free trade doesn't work the way economic liberals say it does. I intend to post several of the essays from this series including "The Free Trade Cult". The first essay in the series, the one which follows, was "The Economic Age". This essay came first, because it contained the most important thing I wished to say about economics - that we, whether we be capitalists or socialists, place too much importance on economics.

The Economic Age

By Gerry T. Neal
June 2, 2009

“The age of chivalry is gone. -- That of sophisters, economists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.”

Those famous words were spoken by Edmund Burke in 1793, in response to the murder of Marie Antoinette by the revolutionaries in France. 2 years previously the 18th Century Whig statesman had written Reflections on the Revolution in France in which he rejected the abstract, rationalist, planning that led to the horrors of the French Revolution which had only just begun, and embraced the Tory view of traditional, organic society in which authority, rights, and liberty were firmly established by prescription. He had seen, even then, where the Revolution was headed.

Clearly, Burke did not think very highly of economists. What did he mean by the word “economist”? The context of Burke’s remarks would suggest that “economist” like “sophister” and “calculator” was being used to describe a class of people who rejected the noble sentiments of the age of chivalry – the gallantry and honor that, as Burke had just remarked, should have caused “ten thousand swords” to leap to Marie Antoinette’s defense. These people replaced these sentiments, with numbers, cold reason, and pragmatic materialistic calculations of their own self-interest.

Burke’s lament, was over seeing the day when such people would become dominant, when society would be rationally planned from the top down, and when people would be primarily guided by cold, rational, materialistic, pragmatic motivations in their everyday decisions rather than by noble sentiments and loyalties. He believed, that much of what made life worth living, which he summed up in the phrase “the unbought grace of life”, would fall by the wayside and perhaps be lost in such a society.

Burke was correct in his beliefs and his predictions. We see the evidence all around us. Far too many people identify “the good life” with obtaining material possessions and dismiss concepts like honor, loyalty, virtue, and character. The concept that true happiness is not related to how much you have compared to other people but to being satisfied with what you have and where you are, while familiar to the ancients and the great Christian ethicists, is alien to such people. This is true regardless of whether the rational materialist favors “capitalism” or socialism.

That does not mean that economic questions are unimportant or that “capitalism” and socialism should be regarded as equally good or equally bad.

Economics, a term derived from the Greek word for the management of a household, is today used to describe the discipline which studies the mechanics of the production, trade, and consumption of material goods and services. Thought on these subjects has been recorded for millennia, of course, but as a distinct formal discipline economics was only in its infancy stage in the 18th Century. While the nature of the discipline is such as to make it especially attractive to people with the rationalist, materialistic mindset Burke decried, it is by no means necessary for one to be a rationalist, materialist to form an educated opinion on these subjects.

Edmund Burke’s own views on economics are known to us. He was a friend of Adam Smith who published his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in 1776. Smith, who died in 1790, once remarked that Burke was the only man he had ever known who “thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us”. Burke, for his part, had heaped praise on Smith’s book. This suggests that Smith’s comment was no exaggeration.

Smith’s book marked the beginning of what is now called classical economics. It is both a history of the evolution of production and commerce and an argument for the free market. The specialization resulting from the division of labor results in greater production of any given product. The same principle applies on a larger scale to the specialization resulting from commerce. As everybody produces more and more of the product they specialize in to sell to others who in turn are producing other products, the general wealth of the nation increases, everybody is better off, and the best thing the government can do to facilitate the process is to keep out of the way.

Later, the term “capitalism” would be applied to Smith’s system. This was not Smith’s term. It was in fact coined by Karl Marx to refer to the period in his dialectic understanding of history, in which feudalism was supplanted by industrialism and commerce, and which Marx believed would be supplanted by revolutionary socialism leading to his communist utopia in its turn. The identification of Marx’s “capitalism” with Smith’s free market probably came about because Smith’s glorification of commerce could be seen as championing the activities and interests of the emerging bourgeoisie class. Marx, who saw everything in terms of class conflict, identified the bourgeoisie as the heroes of the capitalist revolution against feudalism and the villains in the coming revolution of the proletariat.

It is interesting that Marx regarded capitalism, not as a conservative or reactionary force in society, but a revolutionary one. As Marx was a champion of the revolutionary cause this observation on his part has to be regarded as praise of capitalism, which may seem odd, but actually makes sense when one considers his view of history as progressing towards a certain end.

Was Marx right? If he was right about capitalism being a revolutionary force what does that say about Smith’s arguments for the free market, which were endorsed, as we have seen by the leading 18th Century opponent of revolution?

The answer to the first question is yes. If we define capitalism as the historical transformation of rural societies with a predominantly agricultural economy into urban societies with a predominantly industrial economy, then capitalism was undoubtedly revolutionary. Capitalism weakened all sorts of ties that are fundamental to a functioning society. The ties between people and the land they live on were weakened as people moved en masse from the farms into the cities looking for work. The ties between people and previous generations were weakened as crafts and trades were removed from the home and concentrated in factories and stores. Institutions like the family were undoubtedly weakened and Thomas Carlyle was not unjustified in remarking that human interaction was being cheapened by being reduced to the “cash nexus”.

A few observations are necessary at this point. The first is that capitalism as described above was not the free market Adam Smith was advocating. The rise of modern, manufacturing-based economies, concentrated in large scale factories in urban centers, was accomplished with the active assistance of governments. This is a matter of the historical record.

The second is that those who condemn capitalism for its atomizing effects on society will not find an acceptable alternative in socialism or communism. Socialism’s objection is not to an urban economy centered on industrial manufacturing. Its objection is to that economy being in the hands of private owners instead of “the people”. The negative results of capitalism described above were regarded as positive and progressive by Marx. If capitalism was revolutionary, socialism is a thousand times more revolutionary.

A third observation is that manufacturing and increased production are not themselves the problem. It is not wrong for a society to desire a higher material standard of living for its people and this can only be achieved by increasing production. What is wrong is when people and society place make material prosperity their ultimate goal and make all other considerations subservient to that goal.

Adam Smith argued for a free market on the grounds that it was the best system for maximizing human industry and production and therefore increasing the nation’s material wealth and standard of living. He was right but his was not the best argument for the free market. The best argument for the free market is that freedom is itself a good. Moreover, freedom, the right and ability of people to make their own decisions for themselves (including economic decisions), is a superior good to any material goods that can be manufactured, bought, and sold. It is for this reason that a free economy should be defended against the advocates of a planned economy. The latter believe that they can somewhere find a group of experts competent enough to make everybody’s economic decisions for them.

That is the same arrogant mindset of rationalistic planning that Edmund Burke saw devastating France in the 1790s.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

GTN Tory Classics No. 3: Twenty Years Later: A Pyrrhic Victory

The term Pyrrhic victory comes from Pyrrhus of Epirus, a 3rd Century BC Greek king who fought against Rome. At the Battle of Asculum in 279 BC, he led a coalition army against a Roman army of about equal strength. The battle lasted for two days and in the end Rome was routed, but Pyrrhus lost a huge portion of his own army in the process. After the battle, Pyrrhus is said to have remarked "One more such victory, and we shall be undone". A Pyrrhic victory is a victory won at a cost so high it means the ruin of the victor as well.

I wrote the essay that followed for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In this essay I argue that the West won the Cold War against Communism at the price of becoming Communist ourselves. This essay also argues against the widely held but foolish idea that "Communism in theory" is noble and good and unrelated to the actual experience of 20th Century Communism.

Twenty Years Later: A Pyrrhic Victory?

By Gerry T. Neal
October 20, 2009

This November 9th will mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The significance of that historical event cannot be exaggerated. It marked the beginning of the end of the global conflict that had been raging since the end of World War II between the two superpowers that had emerged from that War to take the place of the great European powers that had been decimated by the World Wars. Two years after the East German guards abandoned the check stops and allowed free access through the gates of the wall the Soviet Union was no more.

Did the end of the Cold War mean that we had won and Communism had lost? Or was the “victory” of the West a Pyrrhic victory? In his 2007 book, Homo Americanus: Child of the Post-Modern Age, Dr. Tomislav Sunic pointed out that in Europe some authors had made the observation that “communism died in the East because it had already been implemented in the West”. Is this in fact the case?

What was or is Communism? It was an ideology and a movement dedicated to bringing about a global revolution on the part of the working class that would establish an egalitarian society. It’s roots lay in the philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 18th Century philosopher whose ideas inspired the French Revolution which became the template for revolutionary movements that popped up all over continental Europe in the early 19th Century. One of those revolutionary organizations, the Communist League, commissioned German economist Karl Marx and his friend Friedrich Engels to write a manifesto outlining the aims of their movement. The Communist Manifesto was published for the first time in London in 1848. Less than a century later a party known as the Bolsheviks, dedicated to the ideology of Communism, seized control of the state in Russia, and turned the old Russian Empire into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Under the leadership of tyrants like Lenin and Joseph Stalin, Communist Russia established a brutal system of totalitarian rule. Freedom to worship was severely curtailed by the officially atheist state. Artificial famines were created to inflict mass starvation and suffering upon the Ukrainians. A class of peasant known as the “kulaks” were made the official scapegoat of the Soviet state and targeted for persecution. Forced labor camps were set up all across the USSR. Long before Hitler came to power in Germany the Bolsheviks had set a record for state cruelty and oppression that the Nazis, brutal as they were, would never be able to top. It would, however, arguably be topped by the Chinese Communists led by Mao Zedong who in 1949 had driven out the Chinese Nationalists and conquered mainland China.

Show trials, Potemkin villages, concentration camps, artificial famines, mass executions of entire classes of people deemed to be enemies of “the people” because of their education, wealth, or religion, these were what Communism looked like in practice wherever it reared its ugly head, whether in Russia under Lenin and Stalin, China under Mao, Cambodia under Pol Pot or Cuba under Castro. The whole time this was going on, smug, ivory-tower, leftist intellectuals in America, Canada, the UK and Europe stuck their noses in the air at anyone who considered Communism to be a serious threat to human freedom and happiness.

These sort of things, we were told by leftist academics and Hollywood actors, are not what Communism is really about. Communism is really about equality and sharing and being fair to people. Only those with unearned wealth and power which they jealously guard for themselves while unfeelingly leaving other people to suffer could possibly be opposed to Communism.

Alright then. Lets look at Communism in theory.

The Communist Manifesto, in which Marx and Engels set forth the ideas and aims of the Communist Party, was a short document. It outlined Marx’s distinct view of history as progressing through a series of conflicts between oppressor classes and oppressed classes and his prediction that the next revolution, on the part of the proletariat (industrial working class), would lead to the abolition of private property (the root of all evil in Marx’s theory) and the establishment of a society where everything is owned in common and people contribute to the best of their ability and in accordance with their needs. In their second chapter, entitled “Proletarians and Communists”, Marx and Engels put forth a 10-point agenda for the Communist movement to achieve its goals.

What is interesting about this agenda is that 3 of the points have been completely accomplished in Western societies. The second point is “A heavy progressive or graduated income tax”, the fifth point is “Centralization of credit in the banks of the state, by means of a national bank with state capital and an exclusive monopoly” and the tenth point is “Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children's factory labor in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, etc”.

Note that each of these points is a step towards statism. An income tax is a direct tax on the incomes of people that requires people to give detailed information about their employment and income to the government and which cannot be established apart from an intrusive government tax agency that keeps records on people and has the power to audit people like Revenue Canada or the IRS. When that tax is “progressive or graduated” that means that the government is telling certain people they are making too much money and so the government will take a larger share from them than from others. This tax was established in the United States in 1913 and in Canada in 1917.

A central bank is a tool for the government and bankers working in collusion with the government to confiscate everybody’s wealth without them actually coming up to you and saying “you have saved such-and-such an amount of money over the years, we are now going to take it away from you”. The Federal Reserve System was established in the United States the same year as the income tax and the Bank of Canada was established in the 1934.

Universal public education takes the responsibility for and control of the education of the young away from their parents and places it in the hands of the central state. When schools are paid for and controlled by the central government they become instruments whereby that government can undermine the authority of parents, churches, and other social institutions through state indoctrination. As of late, the public schools seem to be doing far more of that, than teaching kids to read, write, and do math, and imparting to them a basic knowledge of the literature and history of their society and of the world at large.

The other seven points of the Marx/Engels agenda have not been fulfilled so conspicuously and completely but with our estate taxes and government bureaucracies like the CRTC and FCC, and the ministries and departments of transport, it can be said of many of them that they are fulfilled in spirit if not in the letter.

The leftist academics might pipe in at this point and say “See, that proves our point, you can have Marx and Engels without the Gulag, and the killing fields, and the terror famine, and the Great Leap Forward”.

Lets take another look around us then. We don’t have apparatchiks but we do have self-important sycophantic bureaucrats galore. We don’t have yes/no elections on candidates from a single party. We get to chose between various brands of the same party so as to get the policies of Jack Layton under the label of Stephen Harper. We don’t have secret police knocking on our doors in the middle of the night and dragging us away because we have written scurrilous verse about our Leader. We do, however, have Human Rights Commissions, which investigate our actions and words to make sure they measure up to official human rights ideology and which summon us to trials where we are not entitled to legal counsel but where we can face penalties of up to $50 000 and life-time gag orders if we are convicted for just posting words on the internet. There are people in jails across Western Europe whose only crime was to question aspects of the historical account of the Holocaust. Instead of re-education we have “sensitivity training”.

What we don’t seem to have any more are the prescriptive Rights of Englishmen under English Common Law, whereby we are free to do whatever we want if it is not a crime clearly proscribed by law. The Common Law Rights of Englishmen further protected us by insisting that we, if detained by the state, have a right to be immediately presented with the charges against us, to have a judge rule on our detainment, to a trial before a jury of our peers, and if convicted to appeal our case up to Her Majesty herself. Apparently “human rights” trump those rights.

These all seem to have fallen by the wayside as our government has pursued the goals of progress, equality and “human rights”. It looks like Communism, whether in its stark, ugly, naked form in the USSR or Red China, or dressed up to look pretty in Canada and the United States, is simply incompatible with the long-standing British tradition of liberty.

If we value that tradition of liberty, maybe it is time we started asking our politicians to give it back to us, and to get rid of all the Communist innovations they have smuggled in over the last century. Otherwise, the West’s victory over Communism of 20 years ago, is a Pyrrhic victory indeed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

GTN Tory Classics No. 2: Our Traditional Liberties and the State

I originally wrote the following essay in May of 2009 as a companion essay to "On Being a Tory in the Age of Whigs". In "On Being a Tory in the Age of Whigs" I made a case for social institutions like the family, church, and community and for the authority within these institutions - parents in the family, for example - based upon tradition and prescription. In this essay, "Our Traditional Liberties and the State", I made the case for personal liberty against statism.

I wrote both of these essays before I started this blog but the theme of both is reflected in the blog's title. "Throne and altar" is an old expression summarizing what the Tories, the original conservatives, stood for, i.e, social order and continuity grounded in the ancient constitution of church (altar) and state (throne). Liberty is personal freedom.

When William F. Buckley Jr. started National Review in the 1950s to be the printed voice of the American conservative movement, his writers included traditionalists like Russell Kirk who drew inspiration from the older conservative tradition that included high Tories like Samuel Johnson and classical conservatives like Edmund Burke. Buckley's writers also included libertarians, i.e., liberals who continued to believe in the individualistic liberalism of the 19th Century after mainstream liberalism became collectivist in the 20th Century. One of the men Buckley invited to join him in editing National Review was Frank S. Meyer. Meyer is best remembered as the proponent of fusionism - a theoretical attempt at synthesizing classical conservative traditionalism with classical liberal libertarianism.

My joining the idea of "liberty" to the "throne and altar" of Toryism is similar, in one sense, to what Meyer was attempting with fusionism. In another sense it is very different. All periods of liberalism, both classical and modern, have been periods in which the modern state has developed, grown, and concentrated power that had formerly been diffused throughout society into itself. The root ideas of contemporary, North American, progressive or collectivist liberalism, can be found in the ideas of classical individualist liberalism. In titling my blog Throne, Altar, Liberty therefore, I was not, like Meyer, trying to create an artificial synthesis between classical conservatism and classical liberalism, but stating outright that old Toryism is more consistent with personal liberty than any form of liberalism.

Since this essay goes with "On Being a Tory in the Age of Whigs", I recommend reading the two essays together. It is an ovesight on my part that I did not post this essay here much earlier, when I posted its companion. The theme that links the two essays is the idea that prescription and tradition is the source of both our liberty and government authority, and that the modern state, by growing so big and intrusive, threatens both the foundation of its own authority and our personal liberty.

Our Traditional Liberties and the State

By Gerry T. Neal
May 4, 2009

Liberty or freedom is the state of being able to choose for yourself, what you will think, say, or do, rather than having your every thought, word and deed dictated to you by others. Liberty is a good thing, something which men ought to value and seek, both for what it is in and of itself, and for other good which arises out of it.

Liberty, like most good things, has its limits. The man who wishes for unlimited liberty can obtain it only by giving up other goods, namely every good which arises out of living with other people in society. If he goes off on his own, to live on a desert island apart from other people entirely, he will have his unlimited freedom. But if he wishes to enjoy the benefits that come from living among other people in a civilized society, he will have to accept the limitations that come from living under rules. Society and civilization cannot exist without certain basic rules being in place and being enforceable..

There is an old saying that illustrates very well the reason why this is so. It goes: “your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”. In addition to cleverly explaining the limits to liberty which naturally arise from living with other people, this saw also gives us a hint as to the principles determining when it is appropriate for society to limit individual freedom and when it is not. If your activity harms someone else, such as when your swinging fist makes contact with the nose of the person next to you, that is when society, with its government and laws, has the right to step in and tell you to cease and desist. That is what laws and governments are there for.

If the only person your action harms is yourself it is not the government’s place to tell you to stop. If what you are doing causes injury to yourself and/or your property but does not cause harm to other people and their property, your activity is private, and the government has no legitimate authority over it. The legitimate authority of government, is over public activity, i.e., activity that affects others. When your acts cause harm to other people, to their property, to the institutions of society or property belonging to the institutions of society, that is when the government has the authority, and the duty, to step in and prohibit your behavior.

When the state fails to make this distinction and prohibits private acts it threatens our liberty, an essential part of our traditional heritage. The freedom to make our choices for ourselves must include the freedom to make wrong choices, choices which will harm us. We are not free, if we are free only to make right choices, choices which have only good consequences.

The modern state has greatly overstepped the bounds of its legitimate, prescriptive authority over the public sphere.

Today the government tells you that you need its permission to build a house on a piece of land you own. Moreover, you must get its approval for the design of your house, and use materials it has permitted, and builders it has licensed.

To get from one city to another, in a vehicle which you own, the government tells you that you need their permission, in the form of a driver’s license. Moreover, the government tells you that you cannot exceed a speed limit they have arbitrarily chosen, or have alcohol in your bloodstream over a certain percentage they have arbitrarily set. It is one thing for the government to say that if you kill or injure someone else with your reckless speeding or by driving under the influence of alcohol, that you will face a severe penalty. It is quite another thing for the government to say that if even you have caused no damage to other people or property you will still face a severe penalty for driving too fast or too drunk. The latter is an abuse of state power.

Seat belts are installed in vehicles for you to use for your own protection. It is your choice whether you want to use them or not. If you do not buckle up, the only one who can be hurt by it is you. Yet the state insists that if its agents catch you driving without your seatbelt done up they can ticket and fine you. Tyranny done in the name of “your own good” is still tyranny.

The government’s legitimate authority is over public activity. The state has no business telling us what we can or cannot think. It has no business telling us what we can or cannot say. The only time it is appropriate for law to limit what you can say is in a case like a crowded theater, where it is illegal to yell “Fire!”. Yelling “Fire!” in such a situation is an act of mischief, designed to spark a riot, and get other people hurt. So in that instance it is really an act, and not words themselves, that are prohibited.

Today, however, the government criminalizes certain forms of speech because of the thoughts they express. This is what so-called “hate crimes” laws are about. For example, Section 13 (1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act reads:

It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

This amounts to a prohibition because the Canadian Human Rights Act exists for the purpose of prohibiting discriminatory practices. It is also utterly draconian. Note that the words communicated electronically (the courts have extended “telephonically” to include other forms of electronic communication) don’t have to express “hatred or contempt”. They don’t even have to actually expose anyone to hatred or contempt. They just have to be “likely to” do so.

But lets suppose someone’s words went beyond that. Lets suppose they did expose someone protected by the CHRA against discrimination to “hatred and contempt”. Lets suppose they expressed such “hatred and contempt” themselves. Even in that case it would be none of the government’s business. The government is there to protect people, property, and society itself from harmful actions, not to protect people’s feelings from hurtful words. The freedom to think our own thoughts and express them in our own words is one of the most fundamental of our traditional freedoms. It is too important to sacrifice to the cause of political correctness.

In fact the entire Canadian Human Rights Act is an attack on our basic freedoms. It would be one thing for the government to say that it will treat all of its citizens equally in providing the protection of the rule of law and justice. It is quite another thing for the government to prohibit private discrimination, which is what the Canadian Human Rights Act does. If we aren’t free to decide who we want to associate with, who we want to live with, work with, or do business with, how can we be said to be free at all? Freedom of association, another one of our basic traditional freedoms, is too important to sacrifice to the egalitarian agenda.

We need to stand up firmly for our traditional rights and freedoms and demand that our government return to the limits of its traditional authority over the public sphere and abide therein.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

GTN Tory Classics No. 1: The Human Rights Scam

For the next two or three weeks I will be posting essays that I wrote in 2009 before starting Throne, Altar, Liberty. I distributed these essays to my friends through Facebook and e-mail. The dates on the essays are the dates these essays were originally posted to Facebook and/or e-mailed. I am posting them at this time because I am going to need at least two weeks to complete the essay I am working on.

The first essay in this series will be "The Human Rights Scam". I thought this essay would be particularly fitting at this time because of the hoopla in the news about the 30th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms this past Tuesday. The progressive media is always telling us about the debt of gratitude we owe to Pierre Trudeau and the Liberal Party for this Charter which, according to progressive commentators, finally secured for us the rights and liberties Americans had enjoyed for two centuries under their Bill of Rights. This is all a lie. Our most basic rights and freedoms are derived from Common Law and were our possession, as subjects of the Crown, before the Charter. It is because the Americans had cut themselves off from the Crown and the prescriptive tradition that was the source of those rights, that they felt they needed to secure them for themselves with the Bill of Rights. Our Charter does not make those rights and freedoms any more secure than they were before 1982. In fact, it does the exact opposite. The limitations clause in section one and the notwithstanding clause in section thirty-three give Parliament and the provincial legislatures the authority to disregard our most basic prescriptive rights and freedoms. The so-called "human rights" legislation, at the federal and provincial levels, does in fact violate our basic freedoms. That is what this essay is about.

Note: Some of the themes in this essay I reworked into my May, 2010 essay "Human Rights Fraud", one of the first essays I posted here.

The Human Rights Scam

By Gerry T. Neal
May 12, 2009

You hear a lot about “human rights” these days. Countless organizations exist to promote “human rights” around the world or to complain about how this or that country abuses or neglects “human rights”. Every time a socialist wants to take your property and give it to someone else he will recite the mantra “human rights come before property rights”. But what are “human rights”?

To answer that question we must first answer the question: What are rights? Rights are closely related to liberties but they are not identical concepts. Our liberties are everything we are free to do, but our rights are everything we are entitled to. Rights can be categorized according to what it is we are entitled to, who is entitled to it, and where that entitlement comes from. The latter concern, the source of rights, has been a matter of discussion for centuries, and is directly related to the question of human rights.

Theories of rights basically find the source of entitlement in three places: government, tradition, and nature. Not surprisingly those favoring big government prefer to see the state as the source of our rights. When we are entitled to things because the government has written it into the law saying that we are entitled to them these are called our legal or civil rights. These are essential for protecting our rights but there is one basic flaw to legal rights – what government gives today, government can take away tomorrow.

For this reason we need our prescriptive rights. Prescriptive rights are rights which are ours by reason of our membership in a society in which those rights have been possessed from time immemorial. They are inherited rights, rights which our fathers fought for and died, and secured for us over the centuries. They come to us, in the customs, traditions, and ways of our people. Since this is the same way in which our government comes by its legitimate authority, government cannot take away our prescriptive rights, without attacking its own foundations.

Naturally, prescriptive rights will vary from society to society, depending on the traditions and customs of the society in particular. In Canada, a country under the sovereignty of the British crown and the Common Law, we (like the British and the Americans) are heirs to a particular set of prescriptive rights that were known in days of yore as “The Rights of Englishmen”. No greater set of rights has ever been or ever could be devised by the minds of men for the protection of our personal security and liberty than these rights that evolved with the Common Law over centuries of British history.

In the 18th Century, Sir William Blackstone, a jurist and professor of law, wrote a famous and influential treatise entitled Commentaries on the Laws of England that explained the English Common Law to the average reader. This work was divided into four volumes, the first two dealing with rights (personal and property rights), the last two dealing with wrongs (torts and crimes). The rights Blackstone discusses, are the Rights of Englishmen. These he divides into relative rights, such as those attached which come to particular persons by means of status (king, husband, parent, etc.), and absolute rights which are vested in individuals and are those “which every man is entitled to enjoy whether out of society or in it”. The latter, are the subject of the very first chapter of the first volume, and Blackstone, after a brief history of the Rights says they can be boiled down into 3 – the right of personal security, the right of personal liberty, and the right to private property. These are the same three rights which John Locke had argued were “natural rights” (which we will discuss shortly) and there is a great deal of overlap between the Blackstone’s concept of individual rights and Locke’s, but Blackstone is very careful to ground, even these rights, in the prescriptive tradition of English Common Law. He goes on to argue for 5 auxiliary rights “which serve principally as barriers to protect and maintain inviolate the three great and primary rights”. These are:

1. The constitution, powers, and privileges of parliament.
2. The limitation of the king’s prerogative.
3. Applying to the courts of justice for redress of injuries.
4. Petitioning the king or either house of parliament for redress of grievances should the courts fail.
5. Having arms for their defense.

Note carefully the last one. Although Blackstone’s right to bear arms is hardly as unqualified as the American 2nd amendment, the right to bear arms is an English tradition, not an American invention.

Other Rights of Englishmen that are our birthright from the historical tradition from the Charter of Liberties and the Magna Carta to the (English) Bill of Rights and Act of Settlement include the right of habeas corpus, the right to a trial by jury, the right to confront ones accusers, protections against retroactive law and self-incrimination, and the presumption of innocence (Blackstone, famously wrote in chapter 27 of the 4th volume of his Commentaries “the law holds, that it is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer”).

These, our inherited rights are threatened, by a document ironically entitled “The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. This document was tacked on to the Canadian Constitution in 1982 by Pierre Eliot Trudeau when he repatriated the British North America Act. Section 33 (1) of the Charter allows Parliament or legislatures to pass Acts which will operate “notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter”. What are those provisions? Section 2 identifies the “fundamental freedoms” of 1) conscience/religion, 2) thought/belief/opinion/expression, 3) peaceful assembly, and 4) association. Section 7 is the right to life, liberty, and security of person. Sections 8-15 include our right to security against unreasonable search and seizure, our right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned , our basic legal rights upon arrest and upon being charged with a crime, our right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment, and our right against self-incrimination. All of these rights, we had under Common Law, as subjects of Her Majesty, by reason of tradition, prescription, and inheritance prior to Trudeau’s Charter. By allowing government to pass Acts which contradict these rights, Trudeau’s Charter is essentially designed not to guarantee them, but to take them away from us.

Mr. Trudeau was a big believer in “human rights” though. In 1977 he had Parliament pass a document entitled the Canadian Human Rights Act. The Canadian Human Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate. To discriminate means to “make a distinction” in the sense of preferring one over another. The CHRA makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of any of a number of identified reasons – race, sex, religion, etc. This discrimination is illegal under the CHRA in such things as hiring, promoting, and firing employees, serving customers, renting or selling property, and that sort of things. But to make discrimination illegal, means that you are limiting the rights and freedoms of individual persons in Canada. Specifically you are limiting the right of employers to hire, promote and fire whoever they want, the right of businessmen to do business with whoever they want, the right of property owners to rent or sell to whoever they want. In limiting any of these rights you are limiting the basic freedom of association. The Act further, in its Section 13, limits an even more basic freedom – that of thought and speech.

To make matters even worse, the government bodies established by the Act to investigate, prosecute and try cases of discrimination, are not subject to many of the ordinary limitations on police, prosecutors and judges. The burden of evidence in discrimination cases is essentially shifted onto the accused and the trials themselves are a means of punishment.

What kind of “rights” can these “human rights” possibly be that in their name, the most basic rights and freedoms of the English tradition are to be sacrificed?

The idea of “human rights” evolved historically out of John Locke’s doctrine of natural rights. Locke (1632-1704) was the founder of the Empiricist branch of the Enlightenment Project that rivaled the earlier Rationalist branch founded by Rene Descartes. In his Two Treatises of Government Locke identified three basic rights which he said belonged to every individual. These were life, liberty, and property, the same three that Blackstone would later write about. But whereas Blackstone, a Tory, would ground these rights in the context of an established tradition, Locke argued for them on the basis of abstract theory. In a primordial state of nature prior to society, Locke argued, men were free and possessed certain rights under natural law. The basic right was that of property. Men had a right to what was theirs. Since every man owned at least himself, he had the right to his life and to do with it what he wanted (liberty). But these rights in the state of nature were difficult to defend and so men formed a contract to establish society, whereby government and law would enforce and defend their rights.

Locke’s theory had many things to commend it, foremost among them his recognition of the primacy of property rights, indeed his identification of rights with property. The Communist Trudeau did not even consider property rights worthy of being mentioned at all in his Charter. The problem, however, is that divorcing rights from the context of a particular tradition and attaching them to all people universally by means of nature, blurs the distinction between what I am entitled to and what I desire (they are not the same thing). This causes the list of natural “rights” to ever expand and inspires anti-social and often destructive behavior. In 1789, for example, the French National Assembly approved the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. This document adopted Locke’s theory but identified considerably more rights than he did. This was understandable considering that its purpose was to stir up the French Revolution. British statesman Edmund Burke, seeing the madness that ensued from this document, wrote his Reflections on the Revolution in France in which he affirmed prescription as the basis of all legitimate rights.

Today, the principal document of the “human rights” doctrine is the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the General Assembly in 1948. This document is 30 articles long, and while much of it simply rewords the traditional English rights into universal rights it does not properly distinguish between a person’s wants and needs on the one hand and his rights on the other. Having your wants and needs met is a condition right, not a basic right. The only basic rights, the only rights which could conceivably exist in a state of nature apart from society and law are negative rights. Negative rights are entitlements to things you already have. They place no burden on anybody else – other than that they leave you alone to enjoy your rights. Positive rights – which entitle you to something you don’t have, and which place a burden on others to provide those things – may belong to someone by right of membership in a society which grants those rights to its members. They cannot be universal rights belonging to all humans.

Clearly the doctrine of “human rights” is a socialist doctrine. It is also an egalitarian doctrine – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights preaches equality and non-discrimination long before it gets around to enumerating the basic rights of life and liberty. But it is also a foundational doctrine for World Government.

The doctrine of “human rights” is a version of Locke’s doctrine of the universal, natural, rights of the individual, emphasizing the universal, where Locke emphasized the individual. Even if we properly limit our concept of natural rights to negative rights to one’s own life, liberty, and property, these rights don’t mean a whole lot unless they are recognized and respected by others. That is where the importance of society with its inherited rights and legal protections comes in.

By placing the importance on universality rather than on the individual the doctrine of “human rights” becomes an argument against particular societies and their particular traditions and in favor of a universal society that will universally protect “human rights”. It is no coincidence that the idea of “human rights” is so closely connected to the United Nations.

The doctrine of “human rights” inspired the tyranny and bloodshed of the French Revolution. Here in Canada it has been the basis for our being denied basic rights which are ours by inheritance from the English tradition. One shudders to think what this doctrine might inspire if a World Government arises to take over its enforcement.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

What About the Death Penalty?

When we are first introduced to the character of Sir John Falstaff, Shakespeare’s corpulent, cowardly, and corrupt comic relief of a knight, in Act I, Scene II of King Henry IV, Part 1, he and Prince Hal are trading jests and insults with each other in the prince’s London apartments. In the midst of this light-hearted banter, Falstaff asks the future King Henry V, a serious question.

But, I prithee, sweet wag, shall there be gallows standing in England when thou art king?

Before allowing the prince to answer he goes on to advise the heir apparent:

Do not thou, when thou art king, hang a thief.

This advice is entirely self-serving, of course. By this point in the scene we already know Falstaff to be one to “take purses” by the “moon and seven stars” and before the scene ends, he will have made arrangements to commit a robbery at Gadshill. The prince , in response to the advice says:

No; thou shalt.

Falstaff takes this to mean that he will be appointed a judge, but the prince quickly corrects him:

Thou judgest false already: I mean, thou shalt have
the hanging of the thieves and so become a rare hangman.

Upon hearing this, the rotund rogue immediately begins to re-evaluate his position on capital punishment.

There are strong arguments both for and against the death penalty and people who have strong opinions on both sides of the debate, hopefully for nobler reasons than Falstaff. I, for one, have held different views on the matter at different times in my life, and am of mixed opinion on it now.

When I was a youth, before I became a believing and practicing Christian, I thought that the anti-death penalty side had the stronger argument. What if the wrong person is convicted and we put an innocent man to death? This, I was convinced, trumped all other arguments.

I still think that this is a strong argument. It was largely because of the wrongful conviction argument that Great Britain abolished the death penalty in 1969, after Sir Ludovic Kennedy published a number of books questioning the guilt of several people who had been convicted in highly publicized cases. The argument is derived, in part, from an ancient ethical principle found in the teachings of both Socrates and Jesus Christ. Socrates, in Plato’s Gorgias, argues that it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one. (1) Jesus does not word it this way, but the same basic concept is there in His teachings when He taught His disciples not to seek revenge or to return evil for evil, but to love their enemies, forgive those who sin against them, and to turn the other cheek. If you suffer an injustice, i.e., are wronged by someone else, you may be harmed physically. If you commit an injustice, i.e., wrong someone else, you will , in addition to harming him, harm your own soul. This sound and ancient ethical concept is an essential component of the “wrongful conviction” argument against the death penalty.

The Socratic/Christian ethic, however, does not in and of itself require an anti-death penalty position. When an argument is made for or against a proposition, it can do one of four things. It can prove or disprove the proposition, or it can support or oppose the proposition without proving or disproving it. What makes the difference is the relationship between the argument and the proposition. An argument that proves or disproves a proposition –assuming, of course, that the statements in the argument are true themselves – is related to the proposition in such a way that if the argument is true, the proposition must of necessity be true or, if the argument is negative proof, false. An argument supports a proposition without proving it when it is related to the proposition in such a way that if true the proposition is also likely to be true. Similarly, an argument opposes a proposition without disproving it when the argument, if true, renders the proposition to be unlikely.

The Socratic/Christian idea that it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one may make the proposition “we should not have the death penalty” plausible or even likely. Does it make it necessary?

The answer is clearly no. All that necessarily follows from it is the rather basic idea that we should not unjustly impose the death penalty upon someone.

To make the proposition “we should not have the death penalty” necessary, we would have to either a) demonstrate that the death penalty is intrinsically unjust, or b) demonstrate that our having the death penalty would make it inevitable that it would be used unjustly, i.e., against innocent people or people whose crimes did not warrant so high a punishment.

Can we demonstrate that the death penalty is intrinsically unjust?

No, we cannot, for the simple reason that we can prove the exact opposite, that in certain cases the death penalty is the very definition of justice.

Think about it. Let’s say that Joe Jones comes to hate his neighbor Will Wilson. He decides that the world would be better off if Wilson were removed from it and begins to plot his murder. Then one night, he carries out his plan in cold blood, and robs Wilson of his life. He is caught and arrested, brought to trial, and convicted for his crime. What would be a just sentence for such a crime?

The correct answer is that as he robbed a man of his life justice demands that he pay for his crime with his own life.

There are some who would dispute that answer. Their argument can be worded a number of different ways but they are all variations of the idea that “two wrongs don’t make a right.” It is true that two wrongs don’t make a right, but there is a simple reason why this cannot be used as an argument against the justice of the death penalty. It would be a circular argument for it would use that which it is trying to prove – that the death penalty is wrong – as a proof.

One way to try and get around that is to argue that it is always wrong to kill people, under any and all circumstances. This argument has the merit of consistency but it would seem to be made for a different world than the one we live in. If someone attacks you, with the intention of killing you, and the only way to prevent him from doing so is to kill him, is it wrong for you to kill him?

You could, potentially, answer yes on the basis of the concept referred to earlier that it is better to suffer than to commit an injustice. What if, however, it is not your life but the lives of others the attacker is threatening? What if the others who are threatened are people to whom you owe a particular duty of protection – your wife and children, for example?

There are sins of omission as well as sins of commission, and they consist of the failure to do that which one ought to do. It may seem high and noble to take the position that one should never take a life under any circumstances, but if you have the ability to save the lives of others who are dependent upon you by taking the life of someone who is attacking them, then surely it is a sin of omission not to do so. This means, that in these circumstances, it is right and not wrong, to take a life.

Now, showing that it is right in one specific set of circumstances to take a life, does not prove that it is right in another different set of circumstances. Showing that if it is necessary to take the life of an attacker to protect others it is also right to do so does not prove that capital punishment is right. What it does show is that killing is not wrong in all circumstances. If killing is not wrong in all circumstances then the universal, intrinsic, wrongness of killing cannot be used to argue that the death penalty is unjust because it is punishing one wrong with another of the same kind.

Sometimes the objection is made that taking the life of a murderer does not restore the life of his victim. This is a strong argument for those who think of justice primarily or solely in terms of the model of restoration. The flaw in this argument, however, becomes apparent when we take it to its logical conclusion. Is there any kind of penalty for murder that will restore the life of the murder victim? Of course not. Does that mean that murder should go unpunished? Perish the thought!

What this shows us is that justice must involve more than just restoration. The restoration model of justice may be sufficient for crimes involving the theft, damage, or destruction of property but it is completely inadequate for dealing with murder cases.

Justice has been an important subject of philosophical discussion since the days of Socrates and will likely continue to be so until the end of time. Whether we are talking about the way we treat other people, the distribution of common resources or goods, the settling of disputes or the administration of legal justice, the basic idea of justice is that of giving people that which they deserve. People, as members of a society, owe that society obedience to its laws. When someone is accused of breaking the law, it is the job of a judge to hear the accusation and the defense of the accused, in some cases to determine whether the accused is guilty (2), and to give the accused what he deserves – acquittal if innocent, a just sentence if guilty. The standard by which the judge determines what a just sentence is for a particular crime is the law itself.

In civilized countries we recognize that the law itself can be either just or unjust. A law can be judged just or unjust in one of two ways. It can be just or unjust in what it allows or forbids. Or, if it is just in what it allows or forbids, the penalty it prescribes for a particular crime can be just or unjust. It is only the second of these which is pertinent to this discussion.

Is a law that prescribes the death penalty for an offense just or unjust?

If justice means to give to someone what he deserves then clearly the answer to this question depends upon the nature of the offense. If the law prescribes the death penalty for a minor traffic infraction then it is an unjust law. If the law prescribes the death penalty for premeditated murder, on the other hand, then it is difficult to argue that the prescribed penalty is not deserved.

Indeed, by an ancient principle of justice that pops up throughout history in the legal codes of the most civilized societies, the death penalty is exactly what a murderer deserves. That principle is that the punishment ought to fit the crime. This principle has a number of implications. One implication is that the criminal should be forced to pay restitution to his victim when possible. If a man steals, damages, or destroys another person’s property, then he should be forced to return, repair, or replace that property. This is only possible for property crimes in which the injury done to the victim can be undone by restitution. There are other cases in which this is impossible. If a man rapes a woman, he cannot undo the harm he has done her. If a man murders another man he cannot bring him back to life. In these cases there is no restitution that can be made. For crimes like these justice must take the form of retribution. Another implication, of the principle that the punishment ought to fit the crime, is that the punishment a crime deserves is determined by the nature of the injury the victim of the crime suffered. If a man commits murder then the penalty he deserves is the loss of his own life.

If the death penalty is just for murder then it cannot be intrinsically unjust. Therefore, the only remaining argument that can necessitate the position “we should not have the death penalty” is the argument that if we have the death penalty, it will inevitably be used against innocent people. This might seem to be a very easy argument to make. Human beings are fallen, frail, and fallible. To argue from general fallibility for the inevitability of a particular error is not valid reasoning however (3). Furthermore, if it were a valid argument, it would prove too much. For if human error means that the death penalty will inevitably be used against innocent people, it must also mean that any alternative punishment will inevitably be used against innocent people. If this argument is valid against the death penalty, it must therefore be valid against all other penalties as well.

The wrongful conviction argument is therefore, not the infallible argument against the death penalty that I believed it to be at one time. My evaluation of the relative merits of the arguments for and against the death penalty changed when I realized that the arguments used against the death penalty can be used against the very idea of law and order itself. When I realized this, I realized that the death penalty was essential to criminal justice and the rule of law.

I have since encountered other arguments against the death penalty. These are not as strong as the wrongful conviction argument but I will address two of the more common ones. The first is that the death penalty is contrary to the Bible and to the teachings of Jesus Christ. The second is that the death penalty is inconsistent with the prolife position. Both arguments are addressed to specific groups of people – Christians and opponents of abortion – and assume the worldview held by those groups as part of the argument.

The argument that the death penalty is contrary to the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ is just plain wrong. Those who argue this most often point to the sixth commandment (4), the Sermon on the Mount and the story of the woman taken in adultery as evidence.

It is difficult to understand how anyone could honestly believe that the sixth commandment – “thou shalt not kill” – forbids the death penalty. This commandment and the other nine are part of a larger legal code. They are first recorded in the Bible in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Exodus. In the next chapter, the death penalty is prescribed for such crimes as murder, assaulting and/or cursing one’s father and mother, and kidnapping.

Now that same chapter, also includes a version of the ancient lex talionis, the standard of justice in which a man receives as punishment the injury he has inflicted upon another. By this standard, murder warrants the death penalty, and “life for life” is in fact the first thing mentioned in the version which appears in Exodus. Jesus is often said to have disagreed with the lex talionis on the basis of His words in the Sermon on the Mount, particularly those recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel, chapter five, verses 38-42. In these verses He says:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.

Jesus, however, warned those who heard Him give this Sermon, against interpreting His words as disagreement with the Law of Moses. Verses 17-18 of the same chapter record Him as saying:

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

This warning comes just before the part of the Sermon in which Jesus six times introduces a quotation from the Law with “Ye have heard it said” and His own instructions with “But I say unto you”. In some cases, such as the commandments against murder and adultery, there is no apparent contradiction between Jesus’ own instructions and the Law. His instructions take the commandments further and apply them to a person’s inner thoughts and desires as well as to his outward actions. In the case of “an eye for an eye”, however, Jesus’ instructions appear to tell us to do the exact opposite of what the quoted commandment tells us to do. In this context, Jesus’ warning in verses 17-18 clearly means that we are not to think of His instructions as contradicting the Law. How is this possible?

The key to making sense out of all of this is verse 20 “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven”. Everything that follows - the six “Ye have heard it said…but I say unto you” passages – is an elaboration on this idea that the righteousness which God demands of us is higher than that which the scribes and Pharisees taught out of the Mosaic Law. Therefore, when Jesus tells us to “resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”, He is not contradicting “an eye for an eye” as a standard for courts of law in dispensing criminal justice, but telling us that we are not to follow it as a set of instructions about how to personally behave when someone wrongs us.

The scribes and Pharisees themselves, of course, misinterpreted Jesus’ teachings in the very way He warned against. When they came to Him, in the incident recorded in the eight chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, with a woman who had been caught in the very act of adultery and said “Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” they did so, because they wanted to trick Jesus into contradicting Moses. To interpret Jesus’ answer “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” as opposition to the death penalty is to take His words as a contradiction of Moses which is to make the same mistake as the Pharisees who asked Him the question in the first place. He was not speaking to legal authorities with the job of enforcing the law and administering justice but to lay religious leaders who had come to Him in bad faith seeking something they could use against Him. His answer did not condemn the Mosaic Law and the death penalty but convicted those men of their sinfulness and self-righteousness.

To regard Jesus as an opponent of the death penalty, one must regard Him as being opposed to the Law of Moses. To do so is to discount everything He Himself said about the Mosaic Law and to take the position of both the Pharisees who condemned Him and the Gnostics, the early heretics who opposed the authority and teachings of His Apostles and demonized the God of the Old Testament.

The argument that capital punishment is inconsistent with a pro-life stance is more defensible than the argument that Jesus opposed the death penalty. The person like Wendell Berry, who opposes both the death penalty and abortion out of respect for human life, can be said to be consistent. Capital punishment does not devalue human life in the way that abortion does, however, at least if it is reserved for the most serious of offenses. When someone is sentenced to die for a murder he has committed he has done something to deserve the sentence he receives. When a foetus is aborted the human life that is terminated has not done anything to warrant death. When a murderer is sentenced to die it is in order that justice be served. When a foetus is aborted it is usually for the convenience of people (5) who want to be sexually active without the responsibility that comes with it.

In fact it can be argued that the death penalty actually upholds respect for the sacredness of human life. If human life is sacred, and someone takes that human life in the act of murder, to insist upon the death penalty is to insist that nothing short of the life of the murderer is sufficient to pay for the crime. For this argument to be valid, however, the death penalty must be reserved for crimes like murder. As Dr. Johnson eloquently put it:

Death is, as one of the ancients observes, to tôn phoberôn phoberôtaton, "of dreadful things the most dreadful"; an evil, beyond which nothing can be threatened by sublunary power, or feared from human enmity or vengeance. This terror should, therefore, be reserved as the last resort of authority, as the strongest and most operative of prohibitory sanctions, and placed before the treasure of life, to guard from invasion what cannot be restored. (6)

Dr. Johnson write those words in the context of an argument against the multiplication of capital crimes, and particularly against the use of the death penalty for property crimes. He went on to write “To equal robbery with murder is to reduce murder to robbery, to confound in common minds the gradations of iniquity, and incite the commission of a greater crime to prevent the detection of a less”. Johnson’s reasoning is sound and so Falstaff’s advice to Prince Hal appears to be sound, albeit for different reasons than those which prompted him to offer it.

In acknowledging this qualification to the justness of the death penalty, that it should be reserved for the most serious of crimes, we find ourselves returning again to that ancient principle of justice – let the punishment fit the crime. For crimes like murder, death is a just punishment. For lesser crimes, it is not. (7)

(1) Jesus Himself was, of course, the victim of the most famous abuse of the death penalty in all of history. He was accused of blasphemy – falsely, because His claim to be God was in fact true. He was tried illegally in the middle of the night, not by the full Sanhedrin, but by a few of His opponents assembled for the purpose of condemning Him at the home of the high priest. He was then brought to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, who, although he knew Jesus did not deserve to die, consented to the crucifixion anyway in order to appease the mob. It is interesting to note that as the Christian faith was born out of an unjust execution, so was the Western philosophical tradition. Socrates was falsely accused of rejecting the gods and corrupting the youth of Athens. This accusation appears to have been at least in part politically motivated – it was made shortly after the restoration of the Athenian democracy and Socrates was known to be of aristocratic sympathy. As told by Plato in Apologia Socrates was found guilty by the assembly by a narrow margin. Asked to recommend an alternative punishment to the death penalty the prosecution was asking for, he proposed, instead of banishment as expected, a lifetimes worth of free dining in the best restaurant in Athens. This significantly increased the votes against him when it came to the sentencing. There are some interesting parallels between the deaths of Jesus and Socrates. St. Peter tried to prevent the arrest of Jesus with a sword, only to be stopped by His Master, who submitted to the arrest and to the crucifixion. Socrates refused to allow his friend Crito to break him out of prison the night before his execution. While their reasons were very different – Jesus went to the cross in order to die for the sins of the world, Socrates, at least as he is depicted by Plato in the Crito, refused to escape on the grounds that to do so would be to commit an injustice against the laws of Athens which he felt he owed a debt of obedience to despite his unjust conviction – both men acted in accordance with the belief that it is better to suffer an injustice than to commit one.

(2) In other cases it is the job of the jury to determine guilt.

(3) Here is how that argument would look expressed as a syllogism:
A. All human beings sometimes make mistakes.
B. The judges who hear capital cases are human beings.
C. A judge hearing a capital case will sometimes sentence an innocent person to die.
The conclusion C. does not logically follow from the premises. All that can be proven from the premises is that judges, as human beings, sometimes make mistakes, not that they will necessarily make a specific mistake.

(4) Or the fifth commandment if you go by the Roman Catholic and Lutheran system of numbering the commandments.

(5) Only a small percentage of abortions take place in the extreme situations pro-choice activists like to focus on in their arguments.

(6) Samuel Johnson, The Rambler,114, April 20, 1751.

(7) The question of whether or not government as it presently exists, i.e, the modern, progressive, egalitarian, democratic, bureaucratic nanny-state, is fit to administer the death sentence is another question entirely. The answer, unfortunately is no.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Progressive Do-Gooders and Racial Realities

In The Warden, the first volume of Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire, we are given an illustration of the mischief which zealous, progressive social reformers can do when they have the support of the news media. The title character is the Reverend Septimus Harding, an elderly clergyman who is the warden of an almshouse operated by the Church of England in the fictional cathedral town of Barchester. A zealous young social reformer and the suitor of the warden’s daughter, Dr. John Bold believes that the warden receives too high of an income from the property which had been donated to establish the almshouse, and takes legal action to correct this perceived injustice. While Bold is able to keep his knowledge of the fact that the warden is a good and honest man in a separate compartment of his mind from that in which he has formed his opinion about the warden’s income, his friend Tom Towers, publisher of the powerful newspaper The Jupiter, joins his crusade by writing and publishing a couple of articles in which he paints the warden in as negative of a light as possible as a greedy hypocrite and robber of the poor. When Bold goes to Towers, tells him that he is wrong about the warden and asks him not to publish any such stories again, he is told that to do so would defraud the public.

Trollope’s novel was first published in the middle of the 19th century and the causes which inflame self-righteous social reformers have changed between then and now. One of the causes which the John Bolds and Tom Towerses of the present day are obsessed with is that of correcting racial injustices. Or rather, that of combating “racism”, which is not quite the same thing. This obsession dates back to World War II, the American Civil Rights Movement, and the international indignation over the policy of apartheid practiced by South Africa back before it became a failed state.

Many are the Septimus Hardings who have fallen victim to the self-righteousness of the pompous do-gooders and their anti-racist crusade. In 1995, award winning editorial writer Samuel Francis was fired from the Washington Times. A few years earlier, Joseph Sobran, a brilliant protégé of William F. Buckley Jr. had been fired from National Review by his old mentor. In both cases the writers were fired by supposedly conservative publications after progressives had accused them of racism – or in Sobran’s case anti-Semitism – over something they had written and said.

The latest victims are Patrick J. Buchanan and John Derbyshire.

Buchanan is a syndicated columnist, a best-selling author, a former adviser and speechwriter to three US Presidents, and a three time candidate for the US Presidency himself. He was fired from the television news network MSNBC earlier this year. Progressives had been demanding that he be fired ever since the publication, last year, of his latest book Suicide of a Superpower, which included a chapter on “The End of White America”. The network’s president announced in January that he thought what Buchanan had written was not appropriate for “the national dialogue” (1) and in February, Buchanan was fired.

John Derbyshire is the author of several books, including We are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism. He is also a freelance writer who until recently was published by National Review. Late last week he committed the terrible sin of writing an article for the webzine Taki’s Mag entitled “The Talk: Non-black Version”. Several articles had been published recently which discussed conversations certain black parents had with their children warning them about the racism and prejudice they can expect at the hands of white America. Derbyshire’s article was a response to these in which he presented an alternative “talk”, which he says is derived from conversations he has had with his own mixed-race children about black people. The leftist gutter press, including such trash rags as the Atlantic, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post, threw a conniption over this article and the once conservative magazine’s editor Richard Lowry (2) fired him this past weekend.

What had Francis, Sobran, Buchanan, and now Derbyshire said to warrant this outrage? Did they demand the re-establishment of de jure segregation? Did they suggest that black slavery should be reinstated? Did they say that blacks or members of any other race should be denied the civil rights and legal protections of other citizens? Did they call for the persecution or extermination of people on the basis of their skin colour?

Judging from the hysterical denunciations of these men penned by progressives and pseudoconservatives onewould think that they did all of the above, but in fact they did none of the above, nor anything remotely similar.

These men were accused of racism because they rejected the progressive narrative in which whites, and only whites, are the perpetrators of racism, and non-whites, and only non-whites, are the victims of racism. They were accused of racism because they did not accept the idea that it is “racist” for white people to think of themselves collectively as a group and to look out for their own interests and those of their children but that it is not racist for people of other races to be conscious of a racial identity and work to advance their interests. They were accused of racism because they objected to the way in which governments of Western countries were using liberal immigration policies to adversely affect the future well-being of white people. (3) They were accused of racism because they refused to abide by the liberal-imposed taboos against the discussion of facts which conflict with the idea that the best way to deal with the reality of race is to pretend it does not exist.

Samuel Francis had given a speech in which he connected the achievements of Western civilization to the character of the people who built that civilization and suggested that the survival of that culture and civilization required the survival of that people. (4)

Joseph Sobran, who wanted the United States to withdraw from global military endeavours when the Cold War ended, warned that America’s close relationship with Israel could potentially lead her into perpetual war with the Arab nations. (5)

Patrick Buchanan wrote a jeremiad about the decline of America that pointed out that the USA will be irrevocably changed once whites become a minority in America, as is scheduled to happen before this century is half over, and dared to question whether that change will be for the better.

John Derbyshire told his half-European, half-Asian children that as individuals black people are entitled to the same courtesy and respect as any other citizen, that as a group “there is great variation among blacks in every human trait (except, obviously, the trait of identifying oneself as black)”, that there are major differences between blacks and whites in terms of group averages, and that in certain specific circumstances there is reason to be afraid of blacks. (6)

These men lost their jobs because progressive liberals had determined that the expression of certain facts and truths was detrimental to their cause, that everyone who expressed those facts and truths must be branded a racist and silenced, and because the executives of the largest “conservative” publications lacked the courage to stand up to the bullying demands of the left.

One man who has been much in the news over the last month, stands to lose much more than a job, however, because of the alliance between anti-racist social reformers and the media. That man is George Zimmerman. If progressives and their media allies have their way, Mr. Zimmerman will arrested, tried, and convicted of murder, and spend the rest of his life behind bars.

George Zimmerman, for those of you have been vacationing on the moon since Christmas, is a member of the neighborhood watch in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, which is a gated community in Sanford, Florida. On the evening of February 26th, he noticed a 17-year old black youth named Trayvon Martin. Martin, it turns out, had walked from the home of his father’s fiancé to a local 7-11 to buy skittles and ice tea. He was unarmed. Zimmerman thought he looked suspicious, and called police dispatch to report “looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something.” The police told him they did not need him to follow Martin and that they would send a car to investigate. When the police arrived they found Martin dead and Zimmerman standing nearby. Zimmerman told them that he had shot Martin in self-defence. The police took Zimmerman in for questioning, but they did not charge him, and eventually released him.

Progressives maintain that this was an act of racism, that Zimmerman was afraid of Martin because of his skin colour, and murdered him in cold blood.

Let me say right now that I do not know that this was not a murder. Perhaps the progressives are right for once – a stopped clock is right twice a day after all – and Zimmerman deserves to rot in jail for the rest of his life. I do not know, because I do not know what happened in the interval between Zimmerman’s phone call to the police and their arrival, other than that Zimmerman shot Martin. Neither, however, do the progressives know what happened. They were not there anymore than I was.

I do know that the media falsified evidence to support the progressive interpretation of these events.

The National Broadcasting Corporation, for example, played an excerpt from Zimmerman’s call to the police that went “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” In fact, Zimmerman’s actual words were “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” The words “he looks black” were in response to a direct question from the police “OK, and this guy—is he black, white or Hispanic?”

When this was made public, NBC promised to investigate, and wrote the entire thing off as an “error”. (7)

It is difficult to imagine an “error” that would edit a conversation and make it into a racist statement. It is not difficult, unfortunately, to think of a plausible reason why a media company would intentionally do so.

Think about it. There are countless numbers of tragic deaths that occur in the United States every year. Why has this particular case attracted international media attention?

It has done so because the case has been depicted in the media as a classic example of racism. It has been turned into a morality tale to instruct us as to the evils that come from racial profiling. It is being offered as proof that the United States, over 140 years after abolishing slavery, over 40 years after the abolition of Jim Crow and the replacement of de jure discrimination against blacks with de jure discrimination in their favour, and 4 years since they elected their first black President, is a white racist society. The story of racist Zimmerman shooting down an innocent youth in cold blood because he was black is a story tailor-made to suit the purposes of those progressive anti-racists who seem to think that Adolf Hitler is going to break out of hell and start up anew in North America any day now.

The facts of the story, however, do not seem to fit the mold into which the progressive media has been trying to force it.

For one thing, Zimmerman, despite his German/Jewish last name, is not white. He is of mixed race, his father being white, his mother being Peruvian Hispanic. He identifies himself as Hispanic when voting. The media has taken to referring to him as a “white Hispanic”, although he is of dark complexion and it is not customary to refer to people of mixed ancestry in this way. It does not seem to have occurred to the media, that their insistence upon calling Zimmerman “white” in order to associate the shooting of Martin with “whiteness” is itself racist against whites.

For another thing there is evidence to support Zimmerman’s account. The police reported that he was bleeding from his nose and the back of his head and that he showed signs of having been on the ground himself. The surveillance video of Zimmerman entering the police station, despite claims by ABC News to the contrary, shows those injuries. A witness testified to seeing Zimmerman lying on the ground with Martin on top of him punching him.

It should go without saying that this event was a tragedy one way or another. A 17 year old, unarmed kid, was shot dead on his way home from the store. However he dressed, whatever he called himself on Twitter, he did not deserve that. Having said that, however, it does not follow that Zimmerman is the cold-blooded killer that he has been portrayed as in the media. The way the media has handled this affairs means that it will be virtually impossible for Zimmerman to receive a fair trial if he is arrested and charged. Sir William Blackstone once said that it is “better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.” Progressives appear to be willing to sacrifice this noble principle, a key element of the English concept of justice, to the cause of anti-racism.

What the progressives want us to believe is that the Martin shooting proves that white racism is a significant social problem in Obama’s “post-racial” America which justifies legislation and social programs aimed at correcting that problem. The facts are otherwise. If there is a major problem with racism in the USA today it is not the racism of whites against blacks, but of blacks against whites.

Data compiled by the American government demonstrates that the vast majority of crimes committed in the United States are intraracial, i.e., committed against someone of the same race as the person committing the crime. When whites commit crimes, it is most often against other whites, when blacks commit crimes it is most often against other blacks.

The date also shows that interracial crimes, i.e., crimes committed against someone of a different race than the perpetrator, are far more often committed by blacks against whites, than the other way around. (8)

Progressives insist that crimes should receive a greater punishment if they can be shown to be motivated by racial prejudice. They have succeeded in getting laws passed against “hate crimes” in many places. Yet black on white crimes, despite being more frequent than white on black crimes, are seldom if ever treated as hate crimes. Nor do they receive the media attention that the much rarer white on black crimes receive. Particular black on white crimes only seem to receive the kind of media attention the shooting of Trayvon Martin has received when they involve a celebrity like O. J. Simpson.

The progressive/media campaign against racism is a very selective campaign indeed. Certain statements are mercilessly condemned as “racist” when made by whites, even if they are unquestionably true, whereas violent crimes committed against whites are excused as being the expectable response to white racism, rather than racism against whites.

In Trollope’s novel the efforts of John Bold and Tom Towers do not, in the end, help the people in whose name they had appointed themselves to speak but actually make their condition worse. Towers’ accusations drive the warden from the almshouse, the bishop decides not to replace him because of the controversy surrounding the warden’s income, the institution falls into decline, and the residents are deprived of a good friend and of the allowance he had paid them out of his own pocket.

How about the progressive campaign against racism? Has it benefited those in whose name it is fought?

No, it has not. The major injustices committed against blacks in the United States, slavery and de jure segregation, have been abolished for decades. The anti-racist movement continues to blame the problems blacks face today on these injustices however. This does nothing to improve relations between the races, generating distrust on both sides. If blacks and whites both would be benefited from better race relations, then the anti-racist movement is harming both races.

Black people have far more important problems than racism to deal with. Many live in urban centres that have been turned into slums by misguided urban planning on the part of the American federal government (9). A black middle class took shape and began to grow in the decades before the Civil Rights movement began (10), but upward mobility among American blacks has actually slowed down since the Civil Rights movement many urban blacks today find themselves trapped in multi-generational poverty and dependence in part due to anti-family incentives in social programs designed ironically to combat poverty (11). A negative culture which glorifies crime and violence and preys upon black youth has developed and this culture contributes significantly to the high crime rates, both as perpetrators and victims, among American blacks (12).

Progressive and media anti-racism encourages black leaders to turn white people into scapegoats for all these problems rather than to seek real solutions to them. It also contributes to the problems, especially the violent youth culture.

Everybody, white and black alike, suffers from the actions of our contemporary anti-racist John Bolds. If anyone benefits, it is the self-righteous progressive do-gooders themselves, who are usually the first to put into practice in their personal lives the advice John Derbyshire gave his children in his brilliant article.

1. Patrick Buchanan tells the story of his firing in this column here: You can read my review of his book here:

2. Lowry became editor of National Review in 1997. The editor who preceded him was John O’Sullivan, who had taken over the editorship when Buckley stepped down and semi-retired in 1988. Officially O’Sullivan announced that he was resigning the editorship. There is evidence, however, that William F. Buckley Jr. forced him to step down. O’Sullivan had approved a cover story for the magazine entitled “Time to Rethink Immigration?” in 1992, written by finance columnist Peter Brimelow, who would later write the 1995 bestseller Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster calling for immigration restriction and found the immigration restrictionist webzine VDare. Brimelow was fired from National Review at about the same time O’Sullivan “stepped down.” The new editor, Lowry, brought the magazine more in line with “neo-conservatism”, an ideology originally associated with former ‘60’s and ‘70’s radicals and liberals like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, which basically consists of support for American military crusades to spread democracy and capitalism around the globe, a strong American alliance with Israel, free trade and immigration. .

3. Sobran was a late convert to the immigration reform/restrictionist movement, following the publication of Buchanan’s State of Emergency.

4. The speech was given at the first American Renaissance conference in May 1994. It was later adapted into the article “Why Race Matters: The assault on our race and culture must be met in explicitly racial terms”, which appeared as the cover story of the September 1994 issue of American Renaissance. It can be read online here: American Renaissance is a monthly publication that deals entirely with racial issues. It was founded by Jared Taylor, a Yale University graduate, whose book Paved With Good Intentions, first published by Carroll & Graf in 1993, argues that efforts to create racial harmony in the United States following the American Civil Rights Movement through affirmative action and the dismantling of white racial identity have in fact produced the opposite of racial harmony. Politically, Taylor holds to a modified libertarianism in which the state restricts immigration, but is domestically colour blind. Taylor has pointed to studies that show that people of all races prefer to associate mostly with members of their own race, and argues that people of all races should be free to self-segregate or to mix, as they wish. His views can be taken to be the editorial position of American Renaissance, which publishes well-written articles by academics or scientists (some writing under pseudonyms for obvious reasons) which challenge the various racial taboos of progressive America.

5. Sobran expressed these opinions, not in the pages of National Review, but in his syndicated column. This was around the time of Patrick Buchanan’s first presidential campaign and Buchanan expressed similar views, as did Charley Reese of the Orlando Sentinel. It is noteworthy that these conservative columnists were all strong Israel supporters during the Cold War. Each of them believed that the USA should withdraw from military interventionism and adopt a position of armed neutrality after the collapse of the Soviet threat. The accusations of anti-Semitism came primarily from neo-conservatives who wanted the exact opposite of this, a Pax Americana in which liberalism, capitalism, and democracy would be spread throughout the world with the backing of the US military. Often the progressives who repeat the neo-conservatives accusations of anti-Semitism against men like the Buchanan, Reese, and the late Sobran, are the same progressives who lionize Palestianian terrorists as “freedom fighters” and demonize Israel as an “apartheid state”.

6. While I don’t agree with his advice in 10h, the facts as he presents them are correct, and his advice based upon them is largely common sense.

7. h/t Lawrence Auster

8. This column was written in 1999. In it Dr. Walter E. Williams, Professor of Economics at George Mason University, tells how he independently verified the findings of The Color of Crime, a report published by the New Century Foundation earlier that year. The New Century Foundation is the company that publishes American Renaissance, referred to in footnote 4. In 2005 a second, updated, and enlarged edition of The Colour of Crime was published. It is available to download in .pdf format here: The report finds that blacks commit 85% of interracial crime in the United States, and whites commit 15%. Blacks are 12% of the American population, whites are over 60%. Note carefully what these figures say and what they do not say. They do not say that the majority of black Americans commit interracial crimes. They do say that the vast majority of interracial crimes in America are committed by black Americans.

9. Kirkpatrick Sale demonstrates how slums are created on pages 117-122 of Human Scale (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1980). The example he uses is the South Bronx. He traces its decline, beginning with federal government intervention in the housing market after World War II to housing projects in the 60’s and 70’s. He does so to illustrate the concept of prytaneogenesis – “damage actually generated by the state”.

10. The history of this can be read in Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom’s America in Black and White: One Nation, Indivisible (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997).

11. A strong family structure helps deter multi-generational poverty. This structure is weakened when social programs provide – unintentionally – incentives to men to desert their wives and children, for a father and mother not to marry, and for women have children outside of wedlock with multiple fathers and raise those children alone. See Charles Murray, Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1984, 1994), particularly pages 124-133.

12. If you look at the total number of crimes committed in the United States, and break it down by race, blacks do not commit the majority of crimes in the United States. They do, however, commit a very disproportionate percentage of the crimes. What that means is that for the vast majority of American crimes, the percentage committed by blacks is much higher than the roughly 12% that is their percentage of the American population. Progressives typically explain these figures away by accusing police and judges of being racist. Racial arrest and conviction figures however, correlate strongly with the racial analysis of the testimony of crime victims. The Color of Crime, referred to and linked to in footnote 8 does this correlation. The most recent edition is 7 years old but updated source data is available for at the websites of the FBI and the US Bureau of Justice. The US Bureau of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey can be found here: The following link includes a number of reports from the survey that deal specifically with race: The FBI’s United Crime Reports can be found here: Reports for the years 1995 to 2010 are available as is a preliminary report for 2011. To find the racial figures, first click on one of the years, then on “rates” under “Offences Known to Law Enforcement”. This will open a page with a series of options in a horizontal bar at the top. Click “Persons Arrested” then choose the options available for “race” under Expanded Arrest Data at the bottom of the page. Note carefully, that because most crime is intraracial, these figures mean not only that blacks commit a disproportionate number of American crimes, but that they are victims at a disproportionately high rate as well. Therefore, the constant attempts of progressives and their media allies, to slander and libel anyone who points these facts out as a “racist”, is harmful rather than helpful to black Americans, because it covers up a problem that afflicts them worse than anyone else in the USA.