STR Column by Jim Davies, published on April 10, 2013
Freedom cannot be imposed by force. I (and many others) have said that before, yet the Libertarian Party continues to exist. There are also those who imagine that if there is a general economic collapse, free-market businessmen will step into the power vacuum and set up a libertarian or anarchist society with which everyone else will then cooperate (or else!). Either of these ideas is “top-down” and dead wrong, and strong support for that opinion came this week from an unexpected source: a left-of-center newspaper in London.
It's The Guardian, a journal that began as the Manchester Guardian in 1821 and did good work in the 19th Century supporting the classical liberal movement known sometimes as the “Manchester School” that brought such immense benefit to the UK and the world. When the Liberals faded away after WWI, the newspaper moved Left to attract socialist readers, and remains today as a serious daily patronized by such Britons as teachers and bureaucrats. It retains enough of its liberal past to have been chosen by Julian Assange to help release his treasure trove of Wikileak documents in 2010. It runs the most efficient online “comment” forum that I know.
On Monday, April 8th came news of the death of Baroness Thatcher, and the Guardian invited its readers to answer the question “Should she be given a state funeral?”
Within a few hours, 968 comments had been posted, and opinion ran about nine to one against the idea. Fair enough; I did say it was left of center. What shocked me a great deal was the visceral hatred many expressed. By Tuesday morning, the Editor had removed an unusually large number for failure to “adhere to community standards” (and closed off further comment), but here's a sampler:
“Cardboard box in a landfill.
“Tip her into the Indian Ocean.
“Bury her in the Falkland Islands.
“Throw her into a lime pit.
“She went to Hell, and she has shut down 5 furnaces already.
“Will her grave be big enough for everyone to dance on it?
“I will not exult or celebrate the end of this appalling creature.
“I have nothing much against her but we should build a temple dedicated to Neo-Liberal Libertarianism (economic). Put her corpse in a glass panel, suspended above, so that worshippers of the faith can come to the temple and see one of the figureheads rot away into nothing, just like how their ideology rots everything it touches.”
My own contribution began, “While I favor a funeral for the State far above a State funeral for anyone, if Britain can have a State funeral for Winston Churchill, one of the greatest warmongers of the 20th Century, it should certainly hold one for Thatcher.” The torrent of hostile contrary opinions, however, soon swept it off the 50-comment current page.
I can't recall ever having encountered such bitterness. There were celebrants in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was executed, but he had poison-gassed thousands of his own people. There were crowds happily tearing down statues of Felix Dzerzhinsky when the USSR imploded; but he had systematically tortured thousands of political prisoners. How many others were despised when they died? Mao Tse Tung, who slaughtered 30 or 40 million, was honored. Lenin, who let loose 70 years of horror and misery in Russia, remains undisturbed in his mausoleum; so even does Stalin, who carried most of it out. Maggie Thatcher just presided over some useful reforms as below, yet she is reviled as above. How come?
She was of course a politician and a statist, in no way a zero-government advocate. But in 1979, the UK was in a mess; it was not only being ruled, it was being ruled by an unelected bunch of thugs in the trade unions, particularly by one Arthur Scargill, a Communist. During the '70s, I recall it was common to experience three-day working weeks in winter, because he called miners out on strike and starved the country of coal. When elected, she promised to end all that and openly recommended Milton Friedman, whom she had as a guest in Downing Street. She ran a tight ship. It's said that she gave her top lieutenants copies of works by Friedman and Hayek for the weekend and told them to be ready for a written examination on the contents by 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning. (One apocryphal story has it that she once took some of her Cabinet colleagues out for a meal, and ordered beef. The waiter asked, “And for the vegetables, Madame?” to which she replied, “They will also have beef.”)
So it's fair to say that her Conservative governments were comparable to what America would experience if the Libertarian Party were to win an election with a clean sweep, or if the RonPaulians were somehow to gain control of the Republican Party and do likewise.
She presided for 11½ years, and without question left the country more free. She broke the power of the unions, once and probably for all. She liberated several major industries (rail, telecommunications) from state ownership; not very well, but about as well as the US breakup of AT&T in 1984, and better than the Russian privatizations a decade later. She helped wind down the Cold War, by being the first to bring Gorbachev out of the freezer. She waged a short defensive war in the South Atlantic, and won. She implemented the “Big Bang” deregulation of the London financial center, enabling it to compete very effectively ever since. She slowed the money presses in 1980, so bringing inflation down to earth from its 20% peak. She very slightly reduced taxes. Perhaps her most interesting idea was one that failed: the 1990 Poll Tax. It drew so much violent protest from socialists that it was dropped--but it would have charged every person a flat fee to finance government. Had it been imposed and subsequently enlarged so as to replace all other taxes, it could have led to the question that is fatal for government: “Who needs it?” That is, everyone would have been easily able to see that it was no longer possible to force a richer neighbor to pay for some desired benefit. Did Thatcher anticipate that eventual result? Very hard to say. But I happened to be visiting England while the protests were gathering pace, and chatted with some of the street demonstrators. It was the one and only time I have known the Labour Party to oppose a tax.
In summary, the Thatcher years gave Britain a taste of freedom, though not much more. At their end, the State was almost as monstrous as at the beginning, and after her Party had yielded to “Smiling Tony” Blair and his New Labour Party, Brits were in for a massive loss of another class of freedom: privacy. The country became festooned with CCTV and traffic cameras and remains the most surveilled society on the planet. There is protest, but no systematic movement for the abolition of government; while as the comments in the Guardian clearly show, the parasite class viciously resents even the modest improvement she did bring, even 22 years after she left office, eager even to desecrate her dead body.
And that is one measure of the savage resistance that opposes even a minor degree of imposed liberty. If an elected “Libertarian government” (now, there's an oxymoron for you) were to go much further than Thatcher and seriously wind down the apparatus of the State, the outvoted, parasitic minority would be several orders of magnitude more enraged. I don't hesitate to predict, in those circumstances, a civil war.
So instead of imposing freedom from top down, by an elected government or in any other way, it has to arise from ground upwards. There is no other way. That means that everyone must want it, and understand how to live when it arrives. Very clearly, today most people do not. Therefore, there is one option for those who desire a free society, and one only: universal, systematic re-education. (Those who aren't sure that they want a free society may like to review 464 Lost Years.) When everyone understands what freedom can do for them, and what government's true nature is all about, nobody will work for it (so it will disappear) and everybody will be well prepared to do without it; the bitter opposition expressed in that comment “[Libertarian] ideology rots everything it touches” will be seen for the utter, slanderous nonsense that it is, and will not be encountered.
Just as universal re-education is a sine qua non, so is the single feasible way to deliver it in short order: person to person introduction and geometric growth. Nothing else will do the job, and nothing else is needed. Those to whom this is new can find more detail here.