'PC-swindled' out of our freedoms
0 comment Thursday, July 31, 2014 |
Peter Hitchins blogs about 'Conservative liberty and left wing liberty' in Britain.
...What is the difference between conservative liberty and left-wing liberty? Does it matter? (Yes) Can they be reconciled? (Not for long.) I'm grateful to Lord Hoffmann for an interesting and clever speech last week, which made this much clearer than before. Leonard Hoffmann is no fool. He knows his stuff. A lot of the speech, which you can find on the web by Googling "Universality of Human Rights" and "Hoffmann" is perceptive and clever. I am specially grateful to him for quoting Jeremy Bentham's enjoyable savaging of the ghastly French 'Declaration of the Rights of Man', the founding scripture of several gory tyrannies.
This vicious document, a series of foggy statements of the obvious, qualified with sub-clauses making them useless when most needed, actually contained one rather clear section (article 27) which would eventually allow its own authors to have their heads sliced off by the Guillotine they had themselves set up. Should we be sorry about Robespierre and the rest of them being devoured by their own revolution? In my case, not very - though nobody ever seems to learn from these events, and the Russian Bolsheviks ended up in the same fix, devoured by their own revolution.
Otherwise the French declaration was more or less like all the other scrolls of atheistical, grandiose blethers about 'rights' which have been endorsed, acclaimed and adopted all over the world since then, culminating in the United Nations Universal Declaration and the European Convention - and now rivalled by the EU's own Charter of 'fundamental' rights, soon to be used to interfere still more in our lives. Some might also draw attention to the Soviet constitution of 1936, acclaimed by many Western leftists as the finest ever drawn up, just in time for the mass purges and the Moscow Show trials.
The problem with these declarations, with their 'rights' to private life and their 'rights' to a fair trial and their 'rights' to everything else is that it all depends what you mean by private, and fair, and so forth. And what if these 'rights' come into conflict with each other? Who decides which is supreme? ''
This ties in somewhat with my post of the other day about the different kinds of revolutions, the restorationist, the Lockean, and the Jacobin kind. What Hitchins is discussing under the heading of left wing liberty is of the Jacobin variety, which always ends in tears and bloodshed, as history has shown.
As for his questions above about the definitions of ''fair', and so on, in arbitrating these liberties, the answer, as he says, is that the answers are left intentionally vague and open -- so as to give the authors of these documents the power to interpret them.
"Human Rights" have in effect become a replacement for religion. Why is that? I think it is because their supporters see that the problem of deciding what they mean will give them power. The elite increases its power by keeping the right to interpret and enforce these vague laws. It becomes the replacement for God, which is what it has always wanted to be.
Just look at the bizarre constructions placed even on the relatively clear bits of the US Bill of Rights by the American Supreme Court, which manufactured an abortion right out of nothing, drove prayer out of the schools on spurious grounds and for a while abolished the death penalty on an equally feeble pretext, then decided the penalty was all right after all. It is really hard to see how the same document can be read to say that execution is right one year, and wrong the next. It's clear that the real power comes not from the document, but from the court - and of course from those who appoint it.
That is why left-wing rights increase the power of the state. Conservative rights, as expressed in the hard, cool, terse language of the 1689 Bill of Rights, and its Scottish Equivalent the Claim of Right, and in the grand simplicity of the 1628 Petition of Right, concentrate on saying quite clearly what government cannot do. And in the space that is left, when the ruler is restrained by such things, free men can live, write, speak and think.''
What Hitchins is saying in the above passage illustrates the difference between 'negative rights' and positive rights, which is a kind of dividing line between the left-wing and conservative views of liberty which I've touched on here before in the past.
Under the theory of positive and negative rights, a negative right is a right not to be subjected to an action of another human being, or group of people, such as a state, usually in the form of abuse or coercion. A positive right is a right to be provided with something through the action of another person or the state. In theory a negative right proscribes or forbids certain actions, while a positive right prescribes or requires certain actions.''
The idea of positive liberty is generally associated with the Jacobin-style political philosophies, and because the proponents of such thought always see themselves as being the champions of all that is good and right, and as having the blueprint for utopia, they feel constrained to impose measures on people 'for their own good' or in the service of their ideals. This is the situation we are in now in the West, wherein today's leftist ideologues believe that things like 'hate speech laws' or political correctness in general are justified, thus leading to a net loss of liberty among the population.
This piece which appeared in The Australian tells of the increase in 'thought police' activity in the UK.
''BRITAIN appears to be evolving into the first modern soft totalitarian state. As a sometime teacher of political science and international law, I do not use the term totalitarian loosely.
There are no concentration camps or gulags but there are thought police with unprecedented powers to dictate ways of thinking and sniff out heresy, and there can be harsh punishments for dissent.
Nikolai Bukharin claimed one of the Bolshevik Revolution's principal tasks was "to alter people's actual psychology". Britain is not Bolshevik, but a campaign to alter people's psychology and create a new Homo britannicus is under way without even a fig leaf of disguise.
The Government is pushing ahead with legislation that will criminalise politically incorrect jokes, with a maximum punishment of up to seven years' prison. The House of Lords tried to insert a free-speech amendment, but Justice Secretary Jack Straw knocked it out. It was Straw who previously called for a redefinition of Englishness and suggested the "global baggage of empire" was linked to soccer violence by "racist and xenophobic white males". He claimed the English "propensity for violence" was used to subjugate Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and that the English as a race were "potentially very aggressive".
In the past 10 years I have collected reports of many instances of draconian punishments, including the arrest and criminal prosecution of children, for thought-crimes and offences against political correctness.''
In this related piece by Ed West in the UK Telegraph, we read similar reports of how even private conversations are being reported to the 'thought police' by self-selected informers. This is an ominous twist to things: the government does not even have to do the monitoring; the populace have become so indoctrinated, in many cases, that they themselves will voluntarily tattle to the authorities.
On the Hitchens blog, there are some good comments, like this one:
...We must ask ourselves some searching questions about why we did this. Did we really want our country to turn into a free-loader's paradise, a place where drunks rule the streets and hospitals double up as abortion clinics? Did we want cameras on every corner, our most private details held on Government computers and to be forced to carry ID cards? Did we want to complicate our lives with regulations and red tape for everythng from selling houses to starting a business? Did we want to subsidise the pensions of millions of beaurocrats from our taxes? Did we want to take in a few million immigrants, many of whom hate our way of life and want us dead? Did we want to surrender our sovereignty to Brussels or remove Brittania from our devalued coinage?
Unfortunately, asking these questions is simple. Putting right the wrong is going to be much harder.''
We in America can ask ourselves similar questions.
Another comment from the Hitchens blog:
Contributor S. Deol writes:
"If you live in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, India or the U.S.A., consider yourself lucky that you live in a nation of English liberty." adding later that " All men can think, say, write and do whatever they please with reasonable restrictions."
Aye, there's the rub, as Shakespeare might have put it. I was waiting for that "with reasonable restrictions" or some such get-out expression. It is precisely the scope and definition of that adjective "reasonable" that is the crux of the whole matter.
People must have laws and laws are there to forbid things but when a nation comes under the control of rulers determined to solve all natural inequalities by piling laws upon laws - an enterprise doomed from the outset to failure in any case, that nation soon finds that it can do very little without requesting official permission or submitting to official supervision.
A modern Briton's freedom to say or write what he pleases is -as anyone knows - nowadays severely restricted by arbitrary rules of verbal expression sanctioned by no tribunal elected for the purpose and imposed on a law-abiding populace by now cowed into submission both by threat of threat of judicial punishment and by its own intellectual inability to discern the imposture by which one of its time-honoured liberties is being quietly removed.
The extent of our people's gullibility becomes plain when realises the incredible audacity of the imposition of the so-called 'political correction'. Its authors have pulled off a trick with which it would have been impossible to hoodwink our people even a couple of decades ago.
It is well known that bad language - in some cases even obscene language - eventually suffers the fate of all metaphor and loses its power to shock and what is unspeakable in one era can become only mildly distasteful or even totally anodyne in another. However, until someone decided that the British people were so habituated to buying their opinions along with their groceries that they were were ripe, so to speak, for being PC-swindled, the semantic traffic had, as far as I know, never gone in the opposite direction.
Bad words had sometimes become good but I can think of no good words which had before PC gone bad. And most of our gullible, tele-spoon-fed fellow-citizens have bought it hook, line and sinker.
And you talk about English liberty, sir! Don't make me laugh!''
English liberty is in fact the idea on which our American ideas of liberty are based; our Founding Fathers said that they desired 'only the rights of Englishmen.' We Americans too often imagine that we invented our idea of liberty from whole cloth, and that it is based on no antecedents, when in fact it draws from longstanding English traditions, going back at least to Magna Carta and English common law.
So it is especially sad to me to see that in Britain, the fount of many of our ideas and traditions, freedom and liberty and 'the rights of Englishmen' are under attack, if not moribund.
And as the first comment above says, 'putting right the wrong is going to be much harder', and that applies to us as well as to our cousins in the UK.
Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
Oh! raise us up, return to us again;
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power.
William Wordsworth, 'London 1802'

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