On marriage

In 2013 and 2014, at the time when the Government was redefining civil marriage, I wrote two essays on the matter that were published on the Libertarian Alliance blog and subsequently included in my collection of talks and essays The Radical Traditionalist Today. Here are those essays, very slightly revised. My conclusion was then and remains that there are now serious obstacles for traditionally-minded Christians (and indeed others who are traditionally-minded) who would want to enter into civil marriage, and my view is that civil marriage as currently constituted in England and Wales does not conform to marriage as that sacrament is understood by traditional Christians.

The trouble with gay marriage

I should begin with a simple statement of libertarian principle. The state has no business being involved in any way with marriage. It has adopted that role as a consequence of the compromise Henry VIII engendered when he merged Church and State. Since marriage within the Church of England is governed by the law of the land, and not simply by canon law, it follows that when marriage takes place between persons who are not members of that church, the state must act as registrar in order that those marriages have equivalent legal standing. One simple answer to the matter would be to disestablish the Church of England and thereby reduce marriage to a matter of private contract with an optional religious component, but this is not under consideration at present.

My purpose here is not primarily a discussion of marriage and same-sex relationships in their religious context, nor the case for the disestablishment of the Church of England. Rather, I want to point out that what is being proposed with regard to same-sex marriage has some important implications for those who are already married (ie. for those of the opposite sex) and further that its hamfisted legal construction is setting up a series of wholly avoidable and undesirable problems.

Let us not forget, however, that the institution of civil partnership has already established a position of legal equality between marriage and same-sex partnerships. Before civil partnerships, there were eminently legitimate complaints that the inequalities that existed in respect of inheritance and status as next-of-kin were iniquitous in a free society, and that there should be a means by which this could be redressed. In civil partnership, an institution was created that was distinct from marriage; indeed that was exclusively and completely a same-sex institution. For those same-sex couples who had said that they did not want marriage with its accompanying associations, but instead something that, while equal to marriage in law, was theirs alone to define, civil partnership could not have fitted the bill better, and its popularity since introduction would appear to have borne this out. Moreover, it was open to those churches that wished to do so to bless civil partnerships, and several have done so. Even the Church of England, which officially forbids such blessings, has a number of parishes where the letter of the law is observed but ways around the prohibition have been found through “services of prayer and dedication”[i]. At their most elaborate, such occasions are so close to the service for the blessing of civil marriage that were it not for the sex of the participants it would be difficult to tell the difference[ii].

Now, though, we find our legislators – without any apparent cause other than the Left’s shibboleth of “equality” – contemplating far-reaching changes to the nature of marriage between both same-sex and opposite-sex couples. Marriage as constituted at present has to do with the Christian viewpoint that the primary purpose of marriage is for the bringing of children into the world and their upbringing. Consequently, marriage is construed as a specifically sexual bond between husband and wife. This finds expression in the law in respect of the definition of marriage as a binding contract that is not entered into unless and until the marriage has been consummated. Non-consummation renders the marriage voidable under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, section 12a. Consummation has been defined, both in religion and in secular law, as the “ordinary and complete” act of sexual intercourse, a phrase which needs no amplification.

The problems with regard to same-sex marriage will by now be obvious to the reader. The partners cannot consummate the marriage according to the legal definition of that term. Nor is there any other equivalent sexual act that is universal to same-sex couples. Therefore, the government proposes to create a virtually unprecedented new definition of marriage that has no sexual component to it. Here is the relevant section of the government’s consultation document on the matter:

“2.16 Specifically, non-consummation and adultery are currently concepts that are defined in case law and apply only to marriage law, not civil partnership law. However, with the removal of the ban on same-sex couples having a civil marriage, these concepts will apply equally to same-sex and opposite-sex couples and case law may need to develop, over time, a definition as to what constitutes same-sex consummation and same-sex adultery.”[iii]

In other words, the government can see the problem but has absolutely no idea how to solve it. It therefore proposes to foist the entire matter on to the courts to be resolved sine die.

The implications are interesting. As the law would stand under the proposal, for example, a same-sex married partner cannot commit adultery with another partner of the same sex, since any definition of adultery applies only to heterosexual sexual intercourse. But they can commit adultery against their same-sex married partner with a person of the opposite sex. What will constitute adultery or consummation if a definition needs now to be found that applies both to heterosexual and homosexual marriages? The implication is that acts of a sexual nature that fall short of sexual intercourse and which are not regarded as of paramount significance in such discussions at present may come to be seen in a whole new light. Even without my religious hat on, I cannot see this as in any way being a good thing for our society.

I note, incidentally, that Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay rights organization Stonewall, thinks that “This focus on consummation, in particular on the sexual element of it, seems to exercise heterosexuals more than most lesbian and gay people.”[iv] He does not seem to realize that the reason why this exercises heterosexuals is because we, too, are to be significantly affected by the proposed legislation, and in ways that are as yet impossible for anyone to quantify or anticipate with any accuracy. As such, this is a leap into the unknown. There is still time to pull back from the brink.

[i] http://inclusive-church.org.uk/about/church-services-after-civil-partnerships

[ii] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1026599/Rector-faces-sack-holding-Britains-gay-wedding-Anglican-church.html

[iii] http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/equal-civil-marriage/consultation-document?view=Binary

[iv] http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/10/legal-definition-consummation-gay-marriage

The new marriage and conscience

The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is one of the most divisive pieces of legislation to have been passed for many years. While the most obvious aspect of this law – that it permits homosexual couples to contract civil marriage – has been widely publicised, there are further aspects whose significance is likely to prove extremely far-reaching.

In preparing this legislation, the Government appears to have considered that, in respect of those religious groups that object to homosexual marriage, it has been sufficient to allow those groups an opt-out, which it assures us is unlikely to be capable of legal challenge. The veracity of the latter claim is currently under test by Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow, who intend to sue in order to compel the Church of England, to which they belong, to solemnize their marriage.

While the legislation takes account of religious groups that have an objection to same-sex marriage, it makes no provision for those people who are not religious but likewise object to same-sex marriage. They are expected and indeed encouraged to enter into civil marriage regardless of the fact that said civil marriage has been profoundly redefined by this law. Both they and members of religious groups that are officially opposed to same-sex marriage (including the Church of England and the Church in Wales, many Jews, almost all Muslims, some Buddhists, Zoroastrians and Bahá’is) are now placed in an extremely difficult position. This was, furthermore, something of which Parliament was clearly warned during the legislative process and that it chose to disregard in its rush to embrace the “equality agenda”.

The historical position of English law has been to define civil marriage according to Christian understanding, and in so doing to promote a position which is common to the Abrahamic faiths. That position is based on definitions of consummation (and thereby the validity of marriage), and of adultery (which constitutes grounds for divorce). A couple of the opposite sex who contracted civil marriage before 2013 could have that marriage blessed in a religious ceremony in the knowledge that they had not, in entering into civil marriage, engaged in a contract that contradicted the teachings of their religious faith. With the abandonment of consummation as a test of the validity of marriage, and the non-universality of adultery (since its definition applies only to members of the opposite sex), it can no longer be said that civil marriage for heterosexual couples does not involve the implicit acceptance of concepts that run directly counter to much religious teaching on the nature of marriage.

I will speak particularly of the Catholic faith here, since it is that with which I am most familiar, and I am aware that my remarks will have applicability to other faiths as well. In Catholicism, marriage is defined as a sacrament instituted by Christ. As such, definitions of marriage before the time of Christ, ie. in Jewish law, or in pre-Christian societies where the state undertook a role in marriage, are disregarded as irrelevant. The only definition of marriage that matters today is that which Christ gave us, and it is His standard by which other commentaries on marriage are to be measured.

Catholic doctrine holds that the state of marriage is opposed to all forms of unnatural, homosexual behaviour[i]. It is unambiguous on this point. While the Catholic Church does not permit divorce, it holds nevertheless that extramarital acts – of which adultery would be among the most serious – are to be seen as a violation of justice. It can therefore be concluded that adultery is highly germane to an understanding of the boundaries of Catholic marriage.

Our question now is whether a member of the Roman Catholic Church can in good conscience contract civil marriage in the light of the 2013 law. In so doing, the civil marriage that they would now contract is far from being opposed to all forms of unnatural and homosexual behaviour. Rather, it considers that behaviour to be on an equal footing with marriage. The Pastoral Letter “The Narrow Gate” of the Archbishop of Westminster on the passage of the 2013 law says,

“The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act has changed the legal definition of marriage in this land. No longer does this definition assume or support the complementarity of male and female, or expect sexual fidelity between the married couple, or see marriage as oriented towards conceiving and nurturing of children. The titles ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ are now officially gender neutral. This is the deconstruction of marriage as it has been understood for millennia. In effect, this Act completes the privatisation of marriage, so that its central content is whatever the couple wish to construct. Marriage is no longer a truly public institution, at the basis of society.”[ii]

This issue is more complex that it might seem. It should not be thought that the Roman Catholic Church advocates that its members should contract civil marriage in isolation from religious marriage. Rather, the Roman Catholic Church in practice requires that marriages take place in church and are solemnized by a priest, but also that the priest should hold a certificate or license to solemnize marriages from their local Superintendent Registrar. Failing this, it is required that a registrar should be present at the service and should simultaneously complete the necessary paperwork for civil marriage. Under either situation, a Roman Catholic priest effectively performs the marriage service on behalf of the state, under an arrangement that was first agreed in 1895. Whether he should continue to do so given the changed legal position has already been the subject of some discussion.

The present situation requires the acceptance of a moral contradiction that could not be more stark. The acceptance in conscience of civil marriage which directly opposes Catholic teaching on the nature of marriage is a matter of great seriousness. The registrar is taking from the words the priest says during the service those elements that fulfil the requirements of civil marriage as currently constituted. The priest and the couple marrying are therefore actively colluding in the act of civil marriage and not merely treating it as incidental (as would be the case, for example, in France, where church and state are separate, and the registration of a marriage is merely a bureaucratic act). In so colluding, they are forced into a position of the gravest moral compromise.

It may be responded that without civil registration, our Catholic couple would have no standing as married persons in law. Their marriage would be valid in Catholic canon law, but for civil purposes their standing would be as cohabitees. My personal view is that this is now becoming the only route for Catholics that would not involve moral compromise as to the principles of their faith. It would involve a degree of sacrifice – for the legal recognition of marriage brings with it a number of important rights that are not extended to cohabitees – but that is nothing new for Catholics in this country. It would also require the agreement of the Catholic hierarchy, which for all its vocal opposition to the 2013 legislation has tended to take the view that once a law is passed, it must be complied with. While no-one would advocate that Catholics should break the law, there is an important issue as to whether a law that has a distinctive moral element that is opposed to Catholic teaching may be the subject of conscientious objection whereby that law is shunned on those grounds.

It should be mentioned that the existing status of a number of Muslim marriages in England and Wales is of relevance. The Muslim marriage contract or nikah is not automatically recognized as a marriage in English law (in contrast to most Muslim countries, where it is so recognized), and the couple need to contract a civil marriage in order to be recognized as other than cohabitees. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the nikah may be polygamous.

Those Muslims who contract the nikah, and those Christians or others who contract a religious marriage that is not recognized by law, may feel that their religious contract is sufficiently binding in conscience as to constitute all the marriage that they would need. They will need to make additional safeguards in their legal arrangements to ensure that their spouse is treated in the way that they believe is fitting to them, rather than assuming the legal benefits that civil marriage confers, but this may well be an acceptable price for them to pay in order to avoid the moral compromise now involved in contracting civil marriage.

Couples who cohabit have already had to evolve private contracts that serve as alternatives to civil marriage, on whatever terms they may agree. It seems that those who hold religious beliefs that do not equate homosexual partnerships with heterosexual marriage may now be compelled to do likewise. Effectively, we have indeed seen the end of marriage as a public institution in our country, and its aftermath will be one of increasing fragmentation.

[i] See Fr. John Hardon SJ, “Marriage” in  Modern Catholic Dictionary, consulted at http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=34750

[ii] http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/content/download/38192/291236/file/the-narrow-gate-reflection-abp-nichols.pdf

“Ordinary morality is only for ordinary people” – Another perspective on Aleister Crowley

This essay was originally published by the former Libertarian Alliance in April 2014 and subsequently collected in my book “The Radical Traditionalist Today”.

Dr Gabb has recently posed to us the questions “Was Crowley a sort of national socialist, or a sort of libertarian? Was he a sex-obsessed libertine, or did he preach absolute self-control?”[i] He suspects that all these questions have the same answer, and that such an answer does not reflect well upon the self-styled Great Beast. I hope I can propose to him a rather more nuanced appreciation of this complex and enduringly fascinating – though hardly entirely admirable – character.

An understanding of Crowley – and by that, I mean an understanding of what Crowley himself intended by his work and actions rather than the various re-interpretations and smoke-and-mirrors exercises that even he indulged in, should start from the context of the revival of interest in Western esotericism in which Crowley became a pivotal figure. The key to this revival is that it was by nature anti-modern; its proponents were counter-Enlightenment conservatives who sought to recapture the wisdom and ways of the ancients. Their models of spiritual belief were hierarchical and retrogressive at a time when the demos was in its ascendancy; they proposed not only an aristocratic replacement for modern ecclesiastical structures, but furthermore that progress towards the upper echelons of this enlightened aristocracy would involve exposure to and understanding of progressively more advanced ritual practices and the results thereof, bringing about the growth of the soul and rewards that were to be expressed beyond the present world.

The most direct influence upon the way that Crowley approached this, and indeed most other aspects of his life, was the Decadents and particularly Swinburne; from his Cambridge years onwards, Crowley wrote poetry in the Swinburnian mould, including significant erotic verse. Whereas Swinburne’s moral turpitude was largely the product of his imagination, for Crowley those degenerate aspects which attracted him became a practical way of life. It is not entirely true to suggest that Crowley was obsessed by sex; rather that he attached a high spiritual importance to sex, necessitating it as an aspect of his religious ritual and practice of ceremonial magick, and was frank about discussing it in a way that was unusual for his time and was held by many to be immoral. As he opined, “part of the public horror of sexual irregularity so-called is due to the fact that everyone knows himself essentially guilty.”[ii]

From Blavatsky to Leadbeater to Crowley and myriad other teachers and methods that fall within the Western esoteric tradition, there are constant themes: the material world is illusory; the spiritual world is omnipresent; connexion between mankind and the spiritual world is essential but only possible for the initiate; and that the given method of spiritual training offers such initiation with the promise of resultant enlightenment if its disciplines and rituals are correctly observed by a pupil of sufficient aptitude.

The appeal of the esoteric tradition to the West lies precisely in the failure of Western spirituality – in the wake of the disasters of Protestantism and the First Vatican Council – to offer a true spiritual connexion with eternal principles, and in particular its development in the direction of dogmatic centralization so as to enshrine a false rather than a genuine tradition. The search for the perennial philosophy – that which is held to be present in a degenerate form in the fundamental principles of the major religions – led to an inevitable quest towards the ultimate source of this wisdom in the oldest of human spiritual traditions. The parallel between Western esotericism and Eastern modes of belief is obvious and was explicit in a number of syncretic schools, notably Theosophy, as a form of renewal of the West from without. Crowley’s own peregrinations led him from Egypt and Algeria through India and to China, climbing mountains, indulging in opium and performing magical rituals all the while.

The esotericists are radical decentralizers, and yet they are not quite the individualists or anarchists that some would have us believe. Each has a school, a method, and seeks to teach from the perspective of experience and (so they would assert) achievement. And at the top of each of those schools we find one or more individuals who will assert that they have some form of intercourse with the divine and the supernatural, most commonly in the form of spirit guides and the practice of various forms of magic and clairvoyance. Each such entity is a pyramid in shape, and depends for its continuation not only upon the magus at the top but upon the desire of others to gain access to his wisdom – a prize for which many will pay dearly.

It is, I think, unfair to Crowley to suggest that he had no fixed ideas. His work was, after all, experimental in nature – as a ritual magician it could hardly be otherwise – but it was also dedicated to synthesis: to the exploration of diverse spiritual paths and to the distillation of the results into what he believed to be the end product of that process. The ensuing religion, Thelema, may have a single central fixed principle in the Will, but that is not to imply that it does not also have its own recognizable codex, practices and lore. Thelemites are, for all their tendency to fall out spectacularly with each other, nevertheless recognizable as a group with common beliefs and a common culture, and these rest securely upon Crowley’s writings, most notably the Holy Books of Thelema, and the rituals of the Ordo Templi Orientis.

Above all, Thelema is an anti-modernist school of thought; it is oriented towards the primal and in this aspect forms an interesting analogue to the rediscovery of paganism that was going on at the same time – Gardnerian Wicca owes its impulse and some of its content to Crowley’s decision to entrust Gardner with the revival of the O.T.O. in Britain. It directs itself to those who find in the modern and the material only an emptiness that is far divorced from human potential and human instinct. But in its reversion it also abandons what Crowley construed as bourgeois constraint. His libertinism was a mixture of hedonism for its own sake, particularly in drug-taking, and hedonism with an ulterior ritual purpose – all of his various relationships included the practice of sex magick, and in the case of his homosexual partnerships ritual rather than pleasure appears to have been the main objective, since his primary sexual attraction was to women. His magical work was disciplined and assiduously documented, whatever the chaos that persisted externally. He was a prolific writer, and in a number of works wrote spontaneously, attempting to access unconscious or supernatural impulses. It would be misleading, I think, to dismiss Crowley simply as a bad writer. He certainly has his own style, and there is something crude and elemental about it that can disturb the reader with its ferocity.

There is, of course, the strong suggestion that a certain amount of Crowley’s behaviour was simply designed to shock, an aim in which it succeeded in generous measure, but he was also committed to the exploration of physical and spiritual extremes as part of what he saw as his mission; he himself was the testing-ground for much of his practical work, and as such inevitably the focus became his own ideas, reactions and experiences rather than those of others – a focus that could easily spill over into egotism and arrogance. His biographer Laurence Sutin refers to Crowley’s “courage, skill, dauntless energy, and remarkable focus of will”[iii], but on the other hand, Crowley also had a great capacity for physical and mental cruelty and little time for those who disagreed with him.

Nevertheless, and for all that he participated willingly in his own demonization in the press, it is inaccurate to label Crowley as either a nihilist or a Satanist. Crowley did not worship Satan precisely because he rejected the Christian worldview in which Satan exists. Thelema has a specific code of ethics, entitled Duty, that sets out the role of the Thelemite in relation to self, others, mankind and all other beings and things. This code, amongst other observations, designates crime as a violation of the True Will, calls for the laws of the land to promote the maximum liberty for the individual, and exhorts the Thelemite to promote the enlightenment of others and to avoid the wanton destruction of humans, animals or the environment. This is not to suggest that Thelema is necessarily a socially acceptable religion, but it should be enough to quash suggestions that it is one that is purely destructive, or, as has been suggested in certain rather excitable quarters, that it prescribes human or animal sacrifice. In 2009, Thelema was recognized as a religion by the Courts Service for the purpose of administering an oath for a juror who was a Thelemite.

A revealing side to Crowley remains his counter-establishmentarianism. Having entered an organization, Crowley sought to mould it to his own ends; where this proved impossible, he then used what he had learned to create what he regarded as a superior body of his own. The dissent that surrounded his promotion in the Golden Dawn – in which Crowley remained loyal to the order’s autocrat, Mathers, while feuding with other members, notably Yeats – was the springboard for Crowley to develop the A.:.A.:. from the Golden Dawn rituals with the addition of Thelemic elements.

His Freemasonry further illustrates the point; having been initiated into a clandestine Lodge in Mexico, he was then accepted as a member of a Lodge which had been chartered by the Grande Loge de France, and eventually received numerous esoteric Masonic authorities from the Masonic scholar John Yarker. This was not enough; he desired acceptance by “regular” English Freemasonry, and specifically to join the Royal Arch, and so presented his credentials to Great Queen Street, but was informed by the Secretary that he would not recognize him. In a gesture of unabashed defiance, Crowley immediately walked into another room in the building and took his seat as a Past Master in “one of the oldest and most eminent Lodges in London”. Moreover, the authorities that Crowley received from Yarker provided the foundation for the O.T.O., which Crowley perceived as a consolidation of “bodies of initiates” into a single system. He was no longer interested in being a part of Freemasonry as an organization, but rather in taking its forms, rituals and arguably its secrets for his own ends, and forming a body that he and other members regarded as more highly evolved than the original and thereby superior to it.

Another theme in Crowley’s life was his fascination with the status of the aristocrat. He was uninterested in the mundane aspects of the aristocracy, but merged the concept of aristocratic status with his work as an occultist, purchasing Boleskine House on the banks of Loch Ness and proclaiming himself as the Laird of Boleskine – or sometimes, rather less accurately, as Lord Boleskine. What was certainly the case at that time was that Crowley had a sufficiently generous inheritance to live an independent lifestyle and indulge his passions; indeed he may have embraced hedonism with such vigour not least because he viewed it as part and parcel of the aristocratic outlook. Had these passions been rather more moderate, he would doubtless not have run through his funds as he did; but Crowley was never a man of moderation. His descent into addiction to heroin and cocaine, along with the general breakdown of his health, made his financial problems terminal, and by this point his notoriety was such that – even had he wanted to – it seems unlikely that he could have secured a conventional means of income.

If we see Crowley as part of a traditionalist worldview, then it is plain that he sought the overthrow of the present way of things. He hoped that Germany under the Third Reich and the Soviet Union would adopt Thelema as their religion, and despised democracy. Equally, he was an active agent for British intelligence operations during the First World War and worked to destabilise the pro-German lobby. However, Crowley’s practical progress was not through political or revolutionary action, but rather through the spread of ideas and the setting of an example in his own person and through his teachings. Like others of his time, he saw in Enlightenment thought – and indeed in Western, that is to say, Christian, civilization – only decay and the denial of the human spirit. That spirit was to be liberated only if it could be allied to the true expression of the Will. It could not be found in conventionality, in employment, or in industrial life in general. It was expressed, for Crowley, in a hierarchical, ritualistic social organization in which he was the prime instigator and magus, and where his time was spent not merely communing with human beings but with occult forces whose powers were far in excess of his own and whose willing instrument he had become. At his happiest, at the Abbey of Thelema on the island of Cefalu, he lived a life of simple observance among like minds interspersed with painting, writing, drug-taking, teaching and sex – the last two being inextricably intertwined. Here was his ideal, his “aristocratic communism” lived out before, inevitably, practical considerations intervened and the Italian government expelled him.

Aspects of Crowley’s libertinism were, as many have pointed out, a kind of precursor to the hippy movement of the 1960s, but the context was altogether different. Crowley was not concerned with the Age of Aquarius but with the Aeon of Horus; a time in the affairs of mankind in which man would take increasing control of his destiny, and that had followed upon previous aeons that had been respectively maternalistic and paternalistic. In the new aeon, paternalistic religions such as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism would come to be supplanted. Thelema had been codified in order to replace them, while at the same time being rooted in the teachings of the ancients. It offered its adherents the transcendence that they sought but had failed to find in the mundane. It is perhaps unsurprising that several prominent children of the New Age, including guitarist Jimmy Page (who bought Boleskine House) and the late Peaches Geldof should have become interested in Thelema after having explored a number of mainstream religious beliefs, though one suspects that for some adherents the hedonistic aspects are of greater appeal than spiritual disciplines. We might note, moreover, that the O.T.O. remains the only religious organization to send its members a letter of congratulations when they leave – for in deciding to do so they have exercised their Will.

Why should we concern ourselves with Crowley? To be occupied only with his excesses of behaviour and weaknesses of character seems to me to short-change him. The answer surely comes in his dominant influence upon the development of Western esoteric thought and in turn the influence of that thought upon twentieth-century and contemporary culture. He has left a tangible legacy in terms of those who define themselves as Thelemites and are members of the O.T.O. There is also a much wider legacy defined both in terms of those who have absorbed some of Crowley’s ideas and those who have reacted in sometimes extreme ways against them, either to reassert those belief systems that Crowley so comprehensively rejected, or to promote further directions in occultism that differ from his own. Whichever viewpoint one takes, it is hard to ignore Crowley. Even were one not to be at all concerned with the outcomes of his spiritual work, his life is nevertheless a source of interest in itself, and has been subjected to everything from hagiography to excoriation – and that simply among those who knew him!

[i] “Sean Gabb on Aleister Crowley” http://thelibertarianalliance.com/2015/01/22/sean-gabb-on-aleister-crowley/

[ii] Crowley, The Confessions of Aleister Crowley, chapter 50, 1929: http://www.thelema.ca/156/Confessions/chapter50.html

[iii] Laurence Sutin, Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, New York, St Martin’s Press, 2000, p. 148.

Elitism and libertarianism

For several years I was a council member and Director of Cultural Affairs of the former Libertarian Alliance, until its dissolution in June 2017. I continue to identify with many aspects of paleolibertarianism and with the Libertarian Alliance as that body was latterly constituted. However, the following quotation summarizes where I stand today regarding libertarianism in more general terms, particularly given the considerable changes in the British libertarian movement during the past decade:

“I was very much an ardent libertarian, free-market doctrinaire. But gradually I came to realize that those around me with similar views were very much unlike me personally. They were plebean populists. No appreciation for elitism, social hierarchy, and culture and tradition. They wanted to elevate the lowest among us through the medium of unregulated markets. I began to abhor this philosophy and no longer associate myself with it. I have come to appreciate that I am an elitist, through and through.”

The link in the paragraph above is to Sir Roger Scruton’s address “In Defense of Elitism”, the most significant passage of which is the following,

“A culture that is based in knowledge and in the distinction between real knowledge and mere opinion…[is] there because it’s been bequeathed to us by people who made sacrifices in order that it should occur. And we I think should learn to honour those sacrifices and to do our part in passing on these institutions and traditions in our turn. That doesn’t mean that we have to accept everything about them. We have to, on the contrary, make our own living contributions to them. And they have to be amended in lots of ways. But I think, above all, we have to keep alive the collective memory of what we are as a people. That doesn’t reduce to merely what the majority of people presently happen to want.”

An article on the issues of societal morality and legal measures with regard to pornography

Porn, again

Libertarian Alliance, January 2015

Recent discussion indicates that we are in the throes of a fresh wave of censorship concerning sexual matters; specifically new restrictions upon pornography produced in the UK that effectively seeks to hobble it so that it cannot compete with foreign-produced alternatives, readily available to the consumer online. Naturally, the major foreign producer is the United States. Is there, perhaps, some connexion with the Prime Minister’s favoured and incoming TTIP[1], one effect of which (we are told) may be that “jobs switch to the US, where labour standards and trade union rights are lower”?

It is dispiriting to find ourselves in the second decade of the twenty-first century having to re-open arguments that were decided pretty conclusively some fifty years ago so far as the censorship of the theatre, books and films were concerned. Then as now, there was an argument that particular material, be it sex, violence or aberrance of some other form, tended to deprave and corrupt. The closer that argument was examined, the more flimsy its foundations came to appear. Certainly, some of those who watch unpleasant content go on to commit unpleasant crimes. But many more do not, and the correlation of cause and effect in such cases is based on no reliable scientific data. Indeed, the argument that observing particular violent acts within a fictional environment, or today, participating in those acts via a virtual environment such as a computer game, may in fact be therapeutic in expiating the desire of individuals to engage in such acts in real life is rarely heard or examined.

The idea that quangocrats and politicians should act as censors regarding what people might watch or indeed do with other consenting adults in private is in itself odious and should be rejected ab initio. This is tyranny, and it is but a small step from the regulation of sexual content to the regulation of anything else that is deemed immoral or inconvenient to those in power.

The better religious arguments against pornography point out that its chief difficulty is that it shows too little of the actors concerned rather than too much. Sex divorced from an environment of genuine intimacy becomes merely gymnastic, and as such is a debasement of an ideal that depends not on youth, athletic prowess or physical endowment but instead on the more elusive human virtues of love, generosity, mutuality and commitment. That ideal is, for the Christian, expressed in marriage. And yet that value is hardly enshrined in our modern society, which has done more in a few years to dismantle marriage than had been accomplished in two millennia previously. The definition of marriage that is now upheld by the law is not one that depends upon any specific sexual act; such legal concepts as non-consummation and adultery are now consigned to history. How, then, can we form a moral basis upon which our society can judge the sexual practices of its members? The chief moral stance of the law in marriage is to refrain from judgement; to declare that, regardless of the many who profoundly disagree, homosexuality and heterosexuality are in every respect equal, and that in consequence a number of sexual practices previously subject to virtually universal condemnation are now blessed by the State.

This stands in contrast to the present restrictions on pornographic production, and the previous open-ended criminalization of “extreme” pornography, a phrase which remains without any agreed definition. There is no logic in a society whose films permit the depiction of certain legal and consensual sexual acts but censor others. Nor can the judiciary, which surely has enough problems to deal with as things are, be reasonably expected to exercise such a nebulous and ill-defined task as to convert diverse and often conflicting religious and moral perspectives into universal principle.

We are, therefore, currently confused as a nation. Part of that confusion is caused by a narrowness of viewpoint. Because sexual practice is generally a shared experience, and marriage a public commitment, it is by nature cultural. If you spend much of your time in the company of religious conservatives, or indeed readers of the Daily Mail, you are likely to form conclusions on sex that are broadly similar to theirs. If on the other hand, you belong to a sexual minority, or have tastes that take you outside the mainstream, you are compelled from necessity to take a broader and in many cases starkly contrasting viewpoint. In 1996, the Libertarian Alliance published an educational and instructive article by William Landells entitled Cruising for a Bruising: Fun on the Sado-Masochistic Group Sex Scene.[2] Landells’ account is eye-opening in many respects and I commend it to those for whom it may be unfamiliar. Since then, I am told, E.L. James’ novel Fifty Shades of Grey, shortly to be released on film, explores similar territory and has resulted in the sale of over 100 million copies worldwide (it is the fastest selling paperback of all time in the United Kingdom). Prudishness on such matters, then, would seem to be markedly out of step with popular opinion and tastes. The variation in our society’s sexual practices and in its resultant sexual moralities is broadening, not narrowing. One person’s excess is another’s parsimony.

It remains the case that attitudes to sex are, in many cases, deeply entrenched. Indeed, the proverbial man on the Clapham omnibus may regard the rather jolly account provided by Landells as inherently odious or corrupted. Why, then, should he tolerate these practices? Because, ultimately, they are the result of living within a civilized society. The law should not be used to punish victimless crimes; where consenting adults engage in behaviour in private, that is their own business and no-one else’s, however much we might regard their conduct as immoral or disgusting. The alternative is to revert to a society such as the last days of Ottoman Turkey; I recall reading an interview, I think with Georges Simenon, in which he reminded us that in that society, sodomy was punishable by death – and therefore that the Turks took every opportunity to engage in it. The criminalization of sex, be it prostitution or pornography, does nothing to stem the demand for it, but it does make life considerably more difficult and often dangerous for those who are engaged in its trade. There is also the potent argument that what is made illegal is thereby made more transgressive and therefore more desirable to certain parties, and that any moral panic may simply have the effect of focusing greater participatory interest on the practices in question.

So, if the government wishes to preach to us on the immorality of certain sexual practices, it needs firstly to make that case convincingly in the public forum rather than seeking simply to suppress it via the dead hand of legislation. In practice, it cannot make that case. A law that is directly contrary to public mores is both unjust and, ultimately, unenforceable. There is no doubt that the community of those who wish to participate in, and watch others participate in, BDSM and related activities is large. It is not unreasonable to think that its members today include individuals who can be found in prominent positions in politics and elsewhere in public life – for it certainly has done in the past[3]. It should not be thought that those who are rightly expected to guard the nation’s morals are exempt; far from it[4]. It is, indeed, time for our society to grow up about sex; to recognize that there is no merit in treating consenting adults as if they were naughty children. Only if we first do this, can we then stand a chance of forming some degree of a shared sexual morality that rests upon informed consent and not upon mere coercion.

[1] Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership: see http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/what-is-ttip-and-six-reasons-why-the-answer-should-scare-you-9779688.html

[2] http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/persp/persp007.pdf

[3] See, for example, the manner of the death of Stephen Milligan, MP.

[4] Michael Arditti’s novel Easter, based upon the lives of London clergymen, is instructive in this regard.

Another look at Emma West

Another look at Emma West

Libertarian Alliance, September 2014

There are, perhaps, more than two sides to the Emma West story. That this should be so is at least in part due to the torturous duration of her public exposure along with the complexity of the judicial process to which she has been subjected. Through it all, we have had to learn the story of Ms West at second or third hand. Rather like the Queen, by keeping her public statements limited she has made herself a tabula rasa for others to read into her character and intentions whatever they will. To certain people, she is a working-class heroine who dares to say the unsayable about issues of race and immigration. To others, she is a demon of our time, to be shunned and sentenced to deportation by Piers Morgan. Yet others hold her up as an example of a victim of mental illness and/or aberrant behaviour caused by prescription drugs but, in whatever case, subject to impulses beyond her own control.

Perhaps I am alone in finding all this media speculation rather tantalising. Who is the authentic Emma West? What is she really like? There is little that the media dislikes more than someone who, given their allotted fifteen minutes, fails to play the game. Perhaps her legal advisers have told her that silence is her best course of action. Perhaps she is, as has been said, too disturbed to focus on anything other than her own misery (her barrister, David Martin-Sperry, has said that she has attempted suicide on three occasions since the beginning of all this) or that of her domestic circumstances (in May 2013, she stabbed her husband twice in the back with an ornamental knife[1]). I do not go along with the establishment’s medicalization of mental distress through the prism of mental illness, but that does not mean that her experience of mental distress has not been extreme and harrowing.

It is clear that reporting restrictions had been imposed upon this case which have now been lifted. From what has now been reported of the court proceedings, and here I rely mainly on the accounts provided by the Croydon Advertiser, West has asserted that she took an overdose of antidepressant medication combined with a glass of wine before the incident on the tram. She remembered that something had happened on the tram, but not what it was. A month later, video footage of her was on the national news, and she was hailed with some enthusiasm by the British National Party and the National Front, amongst others. We are now told by Mr Martin-Sperry that this political support “coupled with the pressure of the trial” “deeply distressed” West and led her to attempt suicide by twice trying to throw herself in front of traffic from roundabouts in Croydon[2]. These actions led to her being detained in a psychiatric unit. Applications were made by her defence for the case against her to be terminated on the grounds of the state of her health. These grounds were refused by the Crown Prosecution Service and West’s legal team were preparing an abuse of process application when a compromise solution was proposed by the judge and accepted by both parties.

The nature of that compromise may give us pause for thought. The concept of plea bargaining is familiar to students of the American judicial process, but less so over here. As reported by the Croydon Advertiser,

West had denied racially aggravated intentional harassment on a tram travelling between Croydon and Wimbledon between September 30 and November 28, 2011.

However, she has now pleaded guilty to a lesser offence of racially aggravated harassment, alarm or distress, which crucially does not include mention of ‘intent’.

West, we are told, would not admit to anything that would have the effect of labelling her “racist”. Her defence has been to characterize her behaviour on the YouTube video as an episode of what amounts to temporary insanity, caused entirely by the mixture of her overdose of antidepressants with alcohol, and in no way representative of what she actually thinks on the issues of race and immigration. She would have us believe, it seems, that she in fact subscribes to the prevailing opinions on those issues; that is to say, those which are politically correct. Of course I have no reason to doubt West’s version of events, but having viewed the video in question in some detail, I still see in it someone who is, through evident and visceral anger, articulating deeply-held views and emotions in a blunt and direct manner, not a person who appears to be drunk, under the influence of drugs or otherwise insensibly dissembling.

That essential sincerity made an impression upon elements of our political spectrum that have for many years drawn their membership from the working class; from those, like West, who see their society changing before their eyes in ways that they cannot control and never consented to; who find that it is not merely the old economic certainties that have disappeared, but also those of their very social fabric – their family structures, the cohesion of their communities, their refuge in shared opinions and shared prejudices. Someone or something has betrayed them, of that they can be sure, but pinning down exactly what that force might be is a much more complex task. And in betraying them, it has driven them to the margins and taken away their voice. Can it be any surprise that when West and her ilk look around them, they say what they see?

If the BNP and the English Defence Force, among other similar groups, have been wooing West by sending her flowers and cheques, they have not been the only ones to pay her attention. The Croydon Advertiser reports that Mr Martin-Sperry has said that, in consequence of this public support,

“The net result is that threats have been made to burn down her house, not by the political right but by people from the other end of the political spectrum.

“There have been threats to burn her house, she has been physically assaulted and beaten to the ground outside her home.

“If she is to plead guilty to an offence which contained the words racial aggravation, she fears being labelled a racist.”

This week Mr Martin-Sperry said the arson threats had been made on an internet forum and the assault had not been reported to the police.”[3]

(emphasis mine).

So, let us understand a little more of what is going on here. West could, conceivably, have defended her comments. She could have said that her videoed remarks were indeed representative of her general views, albeit crudely and unfortunately expressed in a moment of anger. She could also have made a case that the labelling of her views as “racist” would have been the imposition of a Marxist construct whose shifting sands serve whichever emphasis the Left wishes to put on them this week. She might have developed her views into a political position that could have opened up opportunities to take on a wider role within society either within a political party or as an activist on the specific issues that she was particularly engaged with. But the consequences of doing so would, it appears, have been severe.

While the Left constantly demonizes such groups as the BNP and the National Front as violent extremists, it needs to look rather more carefully at its own ranks. It was not the Right who threatened to burn Emma West’s house down. It was not the Right who beat her up outside her home. If West had retained sufficient trust in the police to report the assault to them (and it should be remembered that she had assaulted a police officer when arrested for stabbing her husband), could she have been assured that she would have been believed, or that any serious action against the perpetrators would have followed? Is it any surprise that faced with this kind of pressure, a young mother in her position would say anything at all that might pacify a lynch mob? Is it any surprise that if someone is forced to deny their beliefs when on the receiving end of such behaviour, that they should be driven to suicide and mental torment? Was the only possible response for Emma West to plead insanity and beg for absolution on the grounds that she was not in control of her actions?

So I do not believe that Emma West’s case is quite as straightforward as Robert Henderson’s recent article indicates, although I do not deny that Robert makes some pertinent points therein[4]. What I do believe is that Emma West began this series of events as a vulnerable person, and that she has become significantly more so in spite of the duty of care our society had towards her.

The challenges of West’s life should not be underestimated. She has a husband, and is a mother. She held down a job as a dental receptionist and nurse for ten years, despite suffering from depression since the age of eighteen. Her mental distress had resulted in her being sectioned just one month before the tram incident, after she attacked a close friend. Immediately before the tram incident, she had attended a session with her therapist which was sufficiently gruelling for her to overdose on her medication and resort to a glass of wine with lunch.

And to these direct pressures, we can add some more that are indirect but nonetheless insidious. Doubtless West has seen London grow significantly more crowded during the past decade, and has witnessed its public transport system become significantly more prone to incidents of low-level aggression and inconsiderate behaviour as it creaks at the seams to accommodate the extra load. Doubtless she has seen her job and her home life grow more difficult as government has imposed ever-greater levels of bureaucracy and micro-management upon employers and the welfare system. Doubtless she worries as wages stagnate while the cost of living soars, particularly with a growing child to feed. Doubtless she has wondered at the alienation of our society as it atomises ever further, the old links of family and class solidarity, the old values of protection for women, children and the elderly swept aside. Is it any wonder that all that weight would eventually cause something to snap?

A moment of anger – and she says that it was provoked when another passenger collided with her as she was standing on the crowded tram, knocking her infant son out of her arms and onto the floor of the carriage – has cost West any peace of mind she might once have had. What is the answer that society can offer? A supervision order and further mental health treatment, according to the court. The end of her career, according to the General Dental Council, which has struck her off and publicly branded her a risk to the “safety of her patients”[5]. The major media outlets seem to have reported these events no differently than if she had not accepted the plea bargain; she is still eternally damned by the video footage that continues to reduce her life to two minutes and twenty-five seconds of ugly rage and hurt.

Perhaps someone in a stronger condition might have found some way to transcend such an episode and rebuild something. For West, she seems crushed by it all, destroyed by a system whose crusading zeal on behalf of its sacred cows carries all before it. It is not easy to hold West up as a martyr. What little we know of her life presents a picture of messy ambiguities, moral compromises and uneasy truths, not the certainties, consistency and steadfastness in the face of opposition that we might expect. Yet, perhaps she would not be the first in whom weakness and vulnerability in the face of overwhelming opposition came to be perceived as virtues.

[1] http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/Emma-West-isn-t-racist-s-unwell-says-friend/story-19215366-detail/story.html

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://thelibertarianalliance.com/2014/09/22/the-persecution-of-emma-west-continues/

[5] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/dental-nurse-who-went-racist-4272210

Two views of Hell

Two views of Hell

Libertarian Alliance, July 2014

Let us begin with the Bible – for that is where, as Christians, we must always begin. And I must crave the indulgence for a moment of those who do not share my faith, but who will perhaps acknowledge that it has been directly formative upon the character and culture of our isles, and therefore has a place, however restricted, in our public discourse.

Psalm 14: 1 puts the matter very succinctly: “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” This seems by any standard to be a condemnation of atheistic belief, not merely in itself, but in terms of the character which such belief – and it is belief, not “the absence of belief” as Dawkins’ followers sometimes tautologically argue – engenders in its adherents.

Atheists have not been responsible for the creation of civilisation or its constituent parts. Those political movements that are predominantly atheistic – chief among which is communism – have not contributed to the world’s bounty one iota and have resulted in the display of callous inhumanity on a massive scale. That is not to say that an atheist cannot have a moral code, or act in a moral way. The difficulty, above all, is that the said atheist does not share that moral code with other atheists, nor indeed with his or her fellows who are adherents of a faith. When morality atomizes or is replaced by ideology, society breaks down. Even within an anarchist construct such as a Hoppean covenant community, there will be a common moral outlook that unites the community. It may be aligned with a particular faith, or it may be an agreed code that, while constructed outside the framework of faith or syncretically from a variety of faith and/or non-faith beliefs, nevertheless provides a direct analogue to that which would arise within such a framework. If we discard faith, we invent that which substitutes for faith, rather as if we discarded the wheel and then tried to recreate it ab initio.

I grow weary of the arrogance, intolerance and general self-destructive stupidity of those atheists, particularly of the younger generation, who hold that the rectitude, nay, certainty, of their beliefs gives them a right to dismantle the spiritual foundations of our country. To their credit, the representatives of the National Secular Society have generally been supportive of freedom of speech for those who disagree with them. But I reserve a greater degree of ire altogether for those individuals who claim to exercise Christian ministry while ignoring its basic foundations. Of their company the late Anthony Bridge, erstwhile Dean of Guildford in the Church of England, had this description in mind:

    “A bureaucratic annexe to the Welfare State with a few pious and neo-Gothic overtones. Hag-ridden by committees and worm-eaten by synodical government, it has dedicated itself to activism, having banished prayer, mystery, silence, beauty and its own rich musical and liturgical heritage to a few remote oases in order to make way for hymns written by third-rate disciples of Noël Coward and sung to the strident noise of guitars played by charismatic curates in jeans.”[1]

One cannot help but reflect that when the devil cannot find a way in from the outside, he will mount his attack from within. And he has been most successful. We are fast approaching a time where to make a public statement about what the Bible teaches is some form of criminal offence. The representatives of the larger churches seem to have done little to protect their members from this; indeed, too often the impression that is given is that where a challenge to the state – or to the liberal agenda which many of them support – is involved, they have simply washed their hands, or indeed sided with the state against their own brethren.

One difficulty is that Christianity is not a “fluffy” religion. Its precepts are tough and uncompromising. Jesus Christ is not merely “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. As He says in Matthew 10:34, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” The purpose of the Church – and if it neglects this purpose, it is nothing – is to encourage individuals to find and follow Christ in all His complexity. And while it would to my mind be impossible to read the Bible and come away with the view that its chief message is that mankind is eternally damned, it remains the case that central aspects of the Christian faith will always pose problems for its adherents. They challenge and provoke; we wrestle with faith because it is often at odds with what we might believe (wrongly) to be “natural” or “fair”. Out of that process can come transcendance. As C.S. Lewis says in “Mere Christianity”,

    “…a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble–because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.”[2]

There is a term for those who wish to pick and choose which doctrines of Christianity they wish to follow and those which they do not – “cafeteria Christianity”. All too often, it is reducible to the idea of “be nice to each other”, as if we were all children in a playgroup. All too often, it is distorted to conform with various brands of socialism, be they dressed up as “liberation theology” or in other guises. It is a form of faith in which Christ is made less than God and man greater than man. It is that which Dietrich Bonhoeffer identified as the deadly enemy of the Church – cheap grace.

Robert Gladwin, a young man from Attleborough in Norfolk, articulates his own version of this bowdlerization when he says “It is my basic understanding that Christianity is inclusive and loving in nature.” Mr Gladwin has objected to his local Baptist church putting up a poster outside the church that suggests that atheists will go to Hell. He has complained to the police, who have recorded the matter as a “hate incident” and required the pastor of the church to take the poster down. We are told that it has been replaced by one featuring meerkats.[3]

Let us examine, for a moment, what the Bible has to say on the matter of atheists and Hell. There is this, for example, from Revelation 21:8-9:

    But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, they shall have their portion in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, which is the second death,

That seems pretty clear, then. Now consider Matthew 12:31:

    Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

and Matthew 13:49-50:

    The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

and, indeed, Matthew 3:12:

    His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.

There is a legitimate theological debate to be had on the nature, permanency and inhabitants of Hell, and indeed upon the effect of all this for the believer in this world. The Pope has recently engaged in this debate. But to suggest that Christian churches in this country should refrain from proclaiming what their faith teaches and muzzle it according to a secular code of imagined “offence” and “hatred” is worse than an obscenity. We are not told if Mr Gladwin has studied theology. He may well be the next John Shelby Spong, though I have my doubts. The fact remains that his actions do harm to our culture. They bring nearer the time when Christians will face a sort of inner death in which their faith will be effectively banished from public life and to confess its tenets will be to invite formal or informal sanction from those in power. We should be clear: this is persecution.

Mr Gladwin and the Baptists are not the only ones who have been talking about Hell recently. Anjem Choudhary has also been advancing the tenets of his particular brand of Islam. He tells us, speaking of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby,

    “So as an adult non-Muslim, whether he is part of the Army or not part of the Army, if he dies in a state of disbelief then he is going to go to the hellfire. That’s what I believe so I’m not going to feel sorry for non-Muslims.”

The news report tells us “Choudary insisted he had not ‘said anything incendiary’ and claims he does not fear being arrested.”[4] There is no reason to doubt his words. There is a double standard at work here, and any student of Cultural Marxism will be aware of how it operates.

[1] See obituary in the Daily Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1550260/The-Very-Reverend-Antony-Bridge.html

[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Harper Collins, 2001, pp 62-63.

[3] See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2637193/If-think-no-God-better-right-Police-probe-churchs-sign-suggested-non-Christians-burn-hell.html

[4] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2335575/Anjem-Choudary-fresh-vile-rant-Lee-Rigby-burn-hellfire-Muslim.html

A tale of two Christians

A tale of two Christians

Libertarian Alliance, January 2014

Let us compare and contrast the following quotations. Firstly, from 2007:

    “The Rt Rev Graham Dow, Bishop of Carlisle, argued that the floods are not just a result of a lack of respect for the planet, but also a judgment on society’s moral decadence.

    “This is a strong and definite judgment because the world has been arrogant in going its own way,” he said. “We are reaping the consequences of our moral degradation, as well as the environmental damage that we have caused.”

    The bishop, who is a leading evangelical, said that people should heed the stories of the Bible, which described the downfall of the Roman empire as a result of its immorality.

    “We are in serious moral trouble because every type of lifestyle is now regarded as legitimate,” he said.

    “In the Bible, institutional power is referred to as ‘the beast’, which sets itself up to control people and their morals. Our government has been playing the role of God in saying that people are free to act as they want,” he said, adding that the introduction of recent pro-gay laws highlighted its determination to undermine marriage.

    “The sexual orientation regulations [which give greater rights to gays] are part of a general scene of permissiveness. We are in a situation where we are liable for God’s judgment, which is intended to call us to repentance.”

    He expressed his sympathy for those who have been hit by the weather, but said that the problem with “environmental judgment is that it is indiscriminate”.[1]

This is the publicly expressed view of a (now retired) bishop of the Church of England, indeed of a “leading evangelical” and thus of a representative of a movement that now accounts for a very major part of our national church.

Our second quotation is much more recent, and comes from David Silvester, who left the Conservatives for UKIP in protest at same-sex unions becoming law. In a letter to his local paper, Mr Silvester is reported as saying,

    “The scriptures make it abundantly clear that a Christian nation that abandons its faith and acts contrary to the Gospel (and in naked breach of a coronation oath) will be beset by natural disasters such as storms, disease, pestilence and war.”

    He added: “I wrote to David Cameron in April 2012 to warn him that disasters would accompany the passage of his same-sex marriage bill.

    “But he went ahead despite a 600,000-signature petition by concerned Christians and more than half of his own parliamentary party saying that he should not do so.

    “It is his fault that large swathes of the nation have been afflicted by storms and floods.”

    He went on to say that no man, however powerful “can mess with Almighty God with impunity and get away with it”.[2]

It would be difficult, I think, to get a cigarette paper between these two views. Yet their expression has had serious consequences for Mr Silvester, who has just been suspended as a UKIP councillor for giving a media interview about his religious views contrary to the instructions of the party hierarchy, who would clearly have preferred that he had kept quiet about them.

Interestingly, the Rev. Colin Coward, who we are told represents Anglican group Changing Attitude, said: “I don’t know where David worships, but clearly it’s in a sect, a church which is not mainstream in its Christian practice and teaching.” One wonders whether Mr Coward has encountered Anglican evangelicals previously, or indeed the Baptist Church, to which Mr Silvester belongs and which has a long history of representation in our country. If he has not, then he is in for something of a surprise.

For these views that have been quoted are supported by the overwhelming majority of those who have called themselves Christians throughout history. It is not the view that homosexuality is wrong, or that environmental disaster may be God’s judgement upon man, that is not “mainstream”. It is the contrary view; a view that is all too recently formulated and that has relied for its proselytisation not upon the pulpit but upon aggressive lobbying and the dead hand of legislation.

Clearly the Left depends for its dominance upon rewriting history; their view must be seen as mainstream, other views must be discredited, and so on and so forth in the best traditions of Gramsci and the other architects of political correctness. But the real story here is how far UKIP has fallen in terms of loyalty to those that it once needed and which it can now jettison as it gains a broader base of support.

At one point, UKIP was being heralded as a home for traditional conservatives (not a few of whom hold to an evangelical interpretation of the Christian faith) and as a party of libertarian values, central of which, surely, must be a commitment to free speech and the free expression of religious (or indeed non-religious) views. In its bid to become “mainstream”, as previously discussed here, it has increasingly come to see its core supporters as an embarrassment; libertarianism is played down and traditional conservatism is muted at best. As UKIP woos Labour voters and as its leading lights scent the whiff of real power, the compromises have started to tell.

Now we are told that if you have “extremist, barmy or nasty” views, according to the article, UKIP’s new vetting system for candidates will weed you out and consign you to the rubbish-heap. It remains to be seen where that will leave the evangelical Christians among its ranks.

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1556131/Floods-are-judgment-on-society-say-bishops.html

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25802437

Some legal thoughts for the end of the year

Some legal thoughts for the end of the year

Libertarian Alliance, December 2013

Previously I have written on the Freemen-on-the-Land and Lawful Rebellion movements. These movements are based on a number of interpretations of law that maintain, in general terms, that it is possible for the individual to challenge given legal provisions on the basis that they use a particular form of words, issue given documents that are said to have contractual enforceability under law, or withdraw actual or implied consent from what is, or what is claimed to be, a contract with the state or agencies acting on its behalf.

Dr Gabb and I are in agreement that these points, whatever their merits – and argument is sharply divided as to whether there is merit to them – are not a magic formula that, when deployed in the face of the state, will result in capitulation on its part. The state rests upon a basis of coercion, and its judicial branch is just that; a branch of the state designed to do what the state bids. It is misguided to believe that the law can be used against the state; the law exists for the benefit of the state and will not be interpreted in such a way as to threaten its fundamentals.

However, it does seem that Freeman techniques may have some significant results when deployed in practice, and that these results may not be entirely undesirable. What they amount to is a campaign of civil disobedience, and such a campaign may prove effective in frustrating aspects of the administration of law and making its operation both more costly and more time-consuming.

An article from the Irish Independent published this October tells us that,

“There have been more than 100 cases in the last year in which borrowers have used versions of Freemen arguments to resist possession by receivers and banks.

The Freemen claim, amongst other things, that they don’t recognise the authority of the courts.

Borrowers have also sought to evade judgment or eviction by claims that they have transferred their mortgages to secret trusts, claiming they can’t be evicted from their homes or business premises.

[Barrister Rossa] Fanning said that while every case must be heard and determined carefully on its own merits, the prevalence of lay litigants defending proceedings on the basis that High Court judges are not properly appointed and don’t have jurisdiction to hear cases – on the basis of “Freeman of the land” theories of law – is a serious challenge facing our legal system.”[1]

One hundred cases in a year would indeed appear to be a serious challenge. It does not ultimately matter that Freeman language and ideas are the chosen vehicle. The defendants could just as well be resting their claims upon any theory designed to frustrate the proceedings. It may well be that some of their actions are fruitless or even counter-productive. It certainly seems to be the case that some of them are using this as a means to evade contractual obligations that they have properly entered into. But Mr Fanning seems to have grasped the effect that they are achieving,

    “These arguments constitute a threat to law and order in this society because they are being advanced by people who, being realistic about matters, are engaged in a campaign aimed at the wholesale tearing up of contractual obligations without any legal basis to support same”.

Governance, even by the most brutal of tyrants, is ultimately dependent upon one thing: popular consent. Rule by repression may be sustainable for a decade or so, but it is inherently unstable. History is full of the downfall of dictators and indeed of unpopular absolute monarchs at the hands of popular uprisings of various kinds. It is true that our many-headed hydra of a state is not as easily removed. But it is equally true that its rule depends upon consent and co-operation by the population at large. If that consent is removed in a few cases, there will be little effect other than the repression of the individuals involved. If it is removed in many cases, then the effect is more likely to be that of making the business of governance difficult and, in time, impossible.

I would not want it to be thought that I am inciting our readers to embark upon a campaign of lawbreaking. Rather, I would invite them to consider a number of factors before reaching their own conclusions. The first is the systematic misuse of our legal code for political ends. I have long believed that our membership of the European Union, so far as it involves the surrender of Britain’s sovereignty, is illegal. I find it fascinating that during the years that I and others have been saying so, we have been treated as voices in the wilderness. Now, however, we have a former Lord Chief Justice suggesting that there is no consensus as to whether European Court of Human Rights rulings are actually binding on the United Kingdom, as it has been widely assumed in the past that they are[2]. If they are not binding, as I believe they never were, then it follows that the copious additional legislation passed by Parliament in the belief that it was following obligations incurred by subsidiarity to the European Union has also wrongly been seen as binding, where in fact it was optional. The implications of this perception, were it to take hold among the population, could well be truly seismic. I do not doubt that there would be those who would try nevertheless to enforce such erroneously-passed laws, but I do not believe that such an enforcement could command any form of legitimacy, nor do I believe that it should receive popular consent.

That brings me on to the next factor, which is that our laws rest upon both a literal basis, that is to say their place as a part of the code of law per se, and a moral basis, the latter dependent upon consent. In the Irish cases, there is a popular perception that the use of the law by mortgage companies against individuals who have suffered hardship as a result of the financial crisis is unjust and immoral, and should be resisted through the withdrawal of consent. Meanwhile, in England and Wales, not so long ago, a number of offences were removed from the statute book; in some cases because they conflicted with later legislation, but in others because they had simply fallen into desuetude – the law had ceased to be observed to the point where it was futile to maintain it. The latter position is an eloquent argument against absolutism in legal matters. A further argument has been the increasing use of the law during the past few decades as a means of petty regulation of matters that are the subject of legitimate moral and ethical interpretation; in other words those laws that seek to enshrine explicitly political ideas, such as egalitarianism, and to suppress opposition to those ideas.

Clearly, there are proper limits to these arguments. I am not about to suggest, along with some of those from the far Left, that there is a moral case for the mass murder of one’s political opponents, or for the theft and redistribution of goods. Nevertheless, it is our government that has felt free to engineer the murder of thousands through its foreign expeditionary wars, and that continues to perpetrate the latter crime through the tax system. It can, I believe, be convincingly argued that our government has conclusively lost what moral authority it might once have had.

Moreover, it seems to me that while it is possible to enter into detailed argument as to the lawfulness of this or that legislative provision, or the right to enter into Lawful Rebellion under Magna Carta, or whether statute law is applicable in this or that instance, such argument leads ultimately to the same ends: consent can either be given or withdrawn to governance, and either way, consequences will ensue.

My point is that as principled libertarians, we should be ensuring that our resolution in the year ahead is to fully and consciously exercise our consent, to be aware of when and how we are giving consent, and to be prepared to withhold consent when not to do so would conflict with our ethical beliefs and involve consequences which we are prepared to accept. We may, and I would argue that as libertarians we should, hold that the government of the United Kingdom, as presently constituted, is both illegal and illegitimate, and further that it is immoral. It follows that we should consider carefully how we should engage with such an entity, on what terms and with what reservations.

We do not need to embrace the Freeman philosophy or even accept its legitimacy to see the value of even a relatively blunt instrument – a form of filibuster if you will – in the withdrawal of consent. It may be that the hundred Irish cases will ultimately be unsuccessful. Alternatively, it may be that they are the beginning of something interesting. Certainly, there are areas where the possibility of the exercise or informed withdrawal of consent may involve little cost to the individual but may have considerable effect if adopted on a wide scale. A number of our readers, for example, believe that the BBC should be abolished. The easiest way to achieve this aim is to participate in those groups that aim to resist, and in time to abolish the television licensing scheme by which the BBC is funded. Further information is provided at this website[3]. Increasingly, the subcontracting of petty legal enforcement of various kinds to private companies involves the citizen in the acceptance of contractual terms of various kinds, sometimes without explicit consent being provided. In certain cases, it may be that it is profitable to establish whether that contract is valid or whether there is a basis upon which it may be contested.

But these are only basic illustrations of what can form a much deeper challenge to the assumptions that underly the consent between state and individual. If we take as a resolution the phrase Question everything! for the coming year we may be in a position where we gain a greater understanding and benefit from that process as a result.

[1] http://www.independent.ie/business/irish/some-debtors-using-freeman-claims-to-evade-obligations-29695437.html

[2] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25535327

[3] http://www.tvlicenceresistance.info

The perils of professionalism

The perils of professionalism

Libertarian Alliance, September 2013

There has been a good deal of talk recently regarding UKIP and “professionalism”. Will Gilpin, outgoing chief executive, thinks the party will remain “a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs”[1] unless it becomes less Farage-centred. Implicit in his commentary is that being enthusiastic amateurs is a bad thing. And in the wake of the departure of Godfrey Bloom – probably the party’s highest-profile figure after Farage – an unnamed UKIP source has opined “…we have to recognise that we live in a modern, inclusive society and we could help mould the future of that society. We have to recognise certain ways of thinking and speaking have changed.”[2] This seems to be a call for UKIP to choose between its present nature and the compromises that would be required of it, not so much so as to be electable, as to enable it to fit in to the prevailing political establishment and to work with bodies such as the Civil Service, the Foreign Office and local government without ruffling too many feathers at home and abroad.

What is not readily discussed in this context is the nature of professionalism and its alternatives. The assumption that professionalism is necessarily a good thing is not one that should follow for any party that uses the word libertarian in its publicity. Indeed, the professions carry with them the most double-edged of swords. On the one hand, there are areas where society is in need of rigorous bodies that ensure that standards are maintained to protect public safety – few, for example, would want to see a return to amateur brain surgery. On the other hand, professional culture has suffered mission creep. It now extends to areas that were not “professional” – and indeed had good reason for not being professional – only a few years ago. Politics is one of these. Where once the idea prevailed that politicians would have an existing career and achievements behind them before entering the House, and would be possessed of an independence of mind that would produce a bottom-up approach to politics, increasingly politicians – such as our own Prime Minister – are rising on the basis of a career entirely spent in politics and related fields such as public relations, and political parties have an authoritarian, top-down approach to policy and strategy, only occasionally derailed by the odd backbench rebellion.

Much that has gone wrong with our society in the last few decades can be laid at the door of a professional political class. Indeed, the rise of that political class exemplifies some of the most significant problems with professionalism. Perhaps the most glaring of these is the abnegation of personal responsibility. Because there is a collectivism inherent in the nature of professionalism, with an overarching set of systems, a common culture, bodies maintaining “standards in public life” and an admission process that is certainly selective (if not necessarily using the right criteria), individuals experience a disinhibiting effect that leads to their placing the culture and norms of their profession ahead of any personal opinions or morals. They are told that their actions must be construed as “for the team”, that interpretation is to be decided as party policy, that dissent is likely to be construed as disloyalty, and that adherence to the professional culture will likely bring about personal enrichment in due course. Moreover, professionalism leads to an expansion of the political class beyond MPs and office staff to a plethora of unelected ancillary political posts, including special advisers of various kinds, fixers and spin-doctors.

Recently, Damian McBride’s memoirs have been serialized in a daily newspaper. McBride, who has confessed to various unpleasant acts during his political career, claims that “the “dark” world of politics encourages vanity, duplicity, greed, hypocrisy and cruelty, and confessed that he was “sucked in like a concubine at a Roman orgy”[3]. It is, of course, possible that McBride’s apologia is not wholly sincere. However, his excuse is the more plausible because it has the ring of truth to it. Professional politics involves a bizarre and amoral set of attitudes and behaviours; in most cases, it is an exemplification of the principle that it is not enough that one must win – others must lose in the process. That the dirty work may be done by a spin-doctor rather than by elected politicians is no more an exoneration than the argument that another member of a murderous cabal struck the blow that proved fatal. That people periodically fall from grace is seen as a validation of the professional culture, which must be working if it roots out the bad hats from time to time. This is a convenient explanation, since it conceals both the precise mechanism that has been involved in that fall and also enables a degree of scapegoating that concentrates media attention upon the individual in question.

It seems not to have been widely considered that these behaviours may well be the consequence of the adoption of a professional culture. Most professions have in common that they are strongly protectionist. They exist not so much to keep the right sort of people in as to keep the wrong sort of people out. They encourage the view that the boundary between those on either side of that fence is rigid, permanent and fulfils an important purpose – typically “maintaining standards”, “protecting the consumer” or “ensuring quality”. Yet all of these matters, with the exception of those which are obvious points of public safety, are more subjective than is generally admitted. The question that is of interest is not so much where the line is drawn, but who draws it and what their reasons are for doing so. Often, there is a monopoly at stake.

Naturally, this process also serves to disempower the public. “Expert culture” is a modern phenomenon that has displaced the attitude, common a generation ago, that a rounded education enabled an intelligent person not only to hold forth with authority upon the subject they had studied, but to acquire related and indeed unrelated knowledge that could enable multi-disciplinary expertise. The view was formerly expressed that a person with a good degree from Oxbridge (or indeed any other competitive university) was equipped not only with a given set of knowledge but with the capacity to expand that knowledge to a potentially infinite extent, and without financial or career considerations necessarily being relevant. The argument that human knowledge has expanded so fast in the last few decades that this is no longer a realistic aim is false. On the contrary, access to information, particularly online, has accelerated to the extent that it is possible to brief oneself on a given topic with much greater ease than was the case hitherto. Certain sections of the public are significantly better-informed as a result.

The difficulty for such autodidacts comes not in the acquisition of knowledge, but in the impact of professionalism upon its effects. Only knowledge gained within the academy – with its certificates, letters and other seals of establishment approval – is admissable, leading to an epidemic of credentialism in areas that were previously blissfully informal. The professional regards the autodidact, as an amateur, as belonging to the other side of the fence – indeed as representing an active danger to the establishment. And indeed, some of those on the other side of the fence have little in their favour. But what is behind this division is not invariably the desire to avoid our universities becoming peopled by individuals in tin foil hats; rather it is the need for professions to validate themselves by defining a clear “out group” who are discredited and even demonized as a means of reinforcing the professions’ self-belief. In politics, which is supposed to be representative, these attitudes are especially dangerous. They have an impact not only upon Westminster, but on the public sector as a whole, whose role is not merely supportive to government but whose consent and active support is essential for governance.

Professionalism is intimately linked to the state. The first professions may have begun not dissimilarly from trades unions, as voluntary associations, but they have long outlived that role, and are now increasingly endorsed by the state as the gatekeepers to the practice of their respective arts and sciences. Specifically, they directly influence state education in their disciplines, act as influential lobbyists, and ensure that their members are kept up-to-speed with the direction that the state is choosing to pursue, which will often be internationally “harmonized” with comparable bodies abroad. When the state seeks to make decisions, it will invariably refer to the professions in the process of the formulation of policy. As a result of the symbiotic relationship of the professions to the state, the decisions that influence that process of gatekeeping are by their nature political decisions. More often than not, they reflect the cultural agenda of the Left – particularly, of course, those parts of that agenda that have become enshrined in law – as well as those that constitute modern-day political shibboleths.

It seems likely that most people who support UKIP (excepting those who derive their career prospects from that association) like the fact that it is not “professional”; indeed that it has clearly differentiated its brand from that of the professional political machine. UKIP will need to think carefully before it rushes to embrace professional culture. By doing so, it may well be abandoning something that is of far greater value than anything it might gain. But if it decides that it is going to oppose, rather than embrace, professionalism, then it will have a fight on its hands that, while in the most just of causes, I doubt it can win without first embracing a complete cultural restructuring of much of this country and in particular its public sector.

It is far easier to accept the establishment way of doing things. The business-as-usual nature of professional politics ensures that individuals can make handsome careers for themselves and the rest is compromise. Every other party that has had a realistic chance of significant electoral power has accepted that compromise and been subsumed into the political establishment. Anyone who does not accept the poisoned chalice risks demonization and a life on the margins. It remains to be seen what choice UKIP’s members will make, but I cannot say I am overly hopeful of the prospects.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/editorials/a-more-professional-ukip-is-good-for-democracy-8778400.html

[2] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/ukip/10324527/Selfish-Godfrey-Blooms-sluts-slur-has-killed-Ukip-conference-says-Nigel-Farage.html

[3] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/sep/20/gordon-brown-press-secretary-cruel-vindictive