Luckily, whilst Smeargate (ugh!) has demolished Labour's credibility, it seems to have revitalised Samizdata: the writing there is once more driven and driving. I particularly liked this post by Thaddeus Tremayne...
What follows next after Mr. Brown and his minions have been given the big, national elbow? Well, in due course (and perhaps even short course) Mr. Brown will be replaced by Mr. Not-Brown. And what lessons will Mr. Not-Brown have learned from the rise and ignoble fall of Mr. Brown? He will have learned that you can relentlessly plunder the wealth-producing sector of the economy in order to provide booty for your clients and be regarded as a visionary leader. He will have learned that you can establish a pettyfogging, pecksniffing, bullying surveillance state and be called a great statesman. He will have learned that you can hack at a once-prosperous economy with punitive taxes and onerous regulations until said economy collapses in an anaemic heap and be praised as an economic genius. And, crucially, he will have learned that you can get away with doing all of that, as long as you observe parliamentary protocols and refrain from seeking to smear your political classmates. That is unacceptable.
So Mr. Not-Brown has had his very simple manifesto handed to him on a plate, courtesy of his predecessor. All Mr. Not-Brown has to do is to pledge to 'clean up' politics and put a stop to all this lack of propriety and he is home and hosed. He doesn't even have to keep his pledge because everyone will be so relieved that Mr. Not-Brown is not Mr. Brown that they will believe him. They will want to believe him and so he will get a free pass to do pretty much whatever takes his fancy. All Mr. Not-Brown has to do (for a couple of years at least) is to make sure that his toadies and his cronies and his aunts keep their cards closer to their chests while they get on with what everybody agrees to be the praiseworthy and important business of stamping on our faces.
Mr. Not-Brown (who will probably be Mr. Buttered-New-Potato) will do precisely this, and this once great country will sink ever more deeply into the mire.
And why? Because, as Philip Chaston so eloquently posts, we are all subjects now.
In 1997 I was still a citizen. Now I am a subject: not a subject of the Crown but the subject of a new beast, one that stretches from Whitehall to Brussels. Roger Scruton has defined a subject as follows:Subjection is the relation between the state and the individual that arises when the state need not account to the individual, when the rights and duties of the individual are undefined or defined only partially and defeasibly, and where there is no rule of law that stands higher than the state that enforces it.
This is a contentious argument, but our rights are overdetermined and overdefined on paper, arbitrary in exertion, incompetent in execution. Moreover, the European Union under the Treaty of Lisbon confers the authority of a bureaucratic state based upon a law no higher than itself, which can annul and strike out all rights, as power overrides law.
In practice, bureaucratic accretions, quangos and the vomit of regulation have encouraged a culture of subjection. This may have roots prior to New Labour but it acquired its final flowering under this pestilent regime, and discarded the final brakes upon its power: demanding that we are subject to them, civil servants in name, masters in form. ID cards, databases, surveillance and dependency.
The crux of the argument is this: once upon a time, our rights were only those which did not need to be defined—what some would call "negative rights"—and which were centred around the human right, basically, to be left the fuck alone.
Now, our rights are described and circumscribed by the state—so-called "positive rights"—and it is the state that defines what our rights are, and the state, therefore, can also remove those rights.
For example, when the state defines that citizens have "the right to an education", what it actually means is "the right to an education provided by the state and funded through the extortion of money from other citizens".
"Surely, Devil," some will cry, "this is a bit of a leap of imagination?" No, not really: let me amplify.
There is no such thing as free education and if someone cannot afford to pay for an education for their child, then the money must come from someone else. And the only way that you can absolutely guarantee that this money can be obtained—as opposed to, for instance, soliticiting charity—is to know that it can be stolen from someone else.
And the money must be stolen from someone else because the state has said that the right to an education is a fundamental "human right": therefore, not only must the right to an education be delivered upon, but it morally supercedes the right not to have the product of one's hard work stolen by force (because being allowed to keep one's own property is not, you see, a "human right").
And the only organisation that can be allowed to steal people's property by force is the state. This is not only to allow the state to keep order, but also because any other agency which was allowed to steal from people would be a competitor to the state—a challenger to its power—and thus absolutely cannot be allowed.
(There are agencies in the UK other than the central government who are allowed to steal to fund their programmes, of course; these include the Scottish government and local councils. However, they depend upon the central government for their power, much of their money and, indeed, their very existence; they are thus part of the collective entity known as "the state".)
And since the state is the only entity that can legitimately steal from people, the state is the only entity that can guarantee "the right to an education" and, by extension, all of those other "positive rights" that are now defined.
And so, because our rights are now defined by the state, we have become subjects—vassals of the state—and have simultaneously entrenched the rights of the state to continue to steal off us.
For, if human rights (as they are now legally defined) are an absolute moral good and the state is the only entity that can deliver those rights, then the very existence of the state itself must be an absolute moral good.
And if the state is an absolute moral good, then the state's right to steal off individuals must also be an absolute moral good. As such, the state-defined "positive human rights" must trump—both practically and morally—any individual rights at all.
As such, the state is now the most important entity in the country; it is far more important than any individual or collection of individuals.
And that is why we are treated with such contempt by our rulers: because they are an absolute moral good and we are merely aphids to their ants—aphids to be farmed for our sweet sap—so that the state can deliver to us our "human rights".
And that is why our freedoms have never been so clearly defined and yet so clearly non-existent.