In Defence of English Civilisation (2012), by Sean Gabb

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On the 20th October 2012, the Traditional Britain Group- a traditional conservative organisation - in conjunction with The Quarterly Review- an historic Tory journal - hosted an all day conference at the East India Club in central London titled, “Another Country - is there a future for Tradition?”

The format involved a number of 30 to 40 minute talks, followed by questions and discussion. Speakers Included: Derek Turner, Lord Sudely, Richard Spencer, Andrew Fear, Pete Myers, Stephen Bush, Peter King, and Theodore Dalrymple.

Sean Gabb, Director of the Libertarian Alliance, spoke last. The title of his speech was "In Defence of English Civilisation." Here is a summary of his speech. The speech was not written in advance, and was given without notes, and this summary is, in some respects, an amplification on and a clarification of what was said. It also incorporates into the main speech points that were raised in the questions and answers session. This text, however, can be checked against the recording, and can be seen to give a fair account of what was said.

The recording was made with a Samsung Galaxy S2 mobile telephone, and the quality is acceptable, though not outstanding.

A version of this article was published by TakiMag in October 2012.


We know that England is under attack, and from its own ruling class. Before we can speak of defence, we need to understand the reasons for the attack.

This is not an attack on tradition in itself, but the unfolding of an alternative tradition.

Part of what defines a nation is the relationship between its ruling class and the people at large. Our historic self-perception as English is based on the relationship between rulers and ruled that existed before 1914, and, though to a fading degree, for a couple of generations thereafter.

The English people in 1914 were capable of fully democratic self-government. They had the necessary cultural and genetic cohesiveness for a democratic system not to descend into chaos or majoritarian tyranny.

Democracy, however, was not necessary, as the oligarchy of hereditary landlords who ruled England had absolutely identified itself with the nation. Every interest group had its place within the nation, and there was a place for all.

After 1914, the old ruling class was destroyed - the heavy casualties of both world wars, high taxes on static wealth, demands for a fraudulent kind fo democracy, and so forth. The old ruling class went down before all this, because it never tried to evade the duties that came with national identification.

The new ruling class is a coalition of politicians, bureaucrats, educators, lawyers, media people and associated business interests, that draws income and status from an enlarged and activist state. It does not own the means of production, but is content merely to control them. Its general desire is to avoid the entanglements that destroyed the old ruling class. It wishes to avoid more than token identification with the English people at large.

The present - and so far the most successful - scheme of liberation is to make power opaque and unaccountable by shifting it upwards to various multinational treaty organisations - eg, The EU, WTO, NATO, etc - and to Balkanise England into groupings more suspicious of each other than willing to combine against the ruling class.

State-sponsored mass immigration has been the most obvious evidence of this desire. Filling the country with people of different colours and with different ways, who do not like each other, and do not like and are not liked by the natives, is ideal Balkanisation. But one of the purposes of political correctness is also to divide the native population – women against men, homosexuals against Christians, and so forth.

The final desire is for the mass of ordinary people to be dispossessed and impoverished, and unable to challenge structures of exploitation that channel fantastic wealth to a free-floating class of masters.

If we want to avoid this, we must destroy the ruling class now. Its weakness is its reliance on the State as source or enabler of its income. Conservatives, therefore, must seize control of the State and disestablish the ruling class.

If we want to win the battle for this country, we need to take advice from the Marxists. These are people whose ends were evil where not impossible. But they were experts in the means to their ends. They knew more than we have ever thought about the seizure and retention of power. If, therefore, we ever achieve a government of conservatives, and seek to bring about the irreversible transfer of power to ordinary people, we should take to heart what Marx said in 1871, after the failure of the Paris Commune: “the next attempt of the French Revolution will be no longer, as before, to transfer the bureaucratic-military machine from one hand to another, but to smash it, and this is the precondition for every real people’s revolution….”

The meaning of this is that we should not try to work with the ruling class. We should not try to jolly it along. We should not try fighting it on narrow fronts. We must regard it as the enemy, and we must smash it.

On the first day of our government of conservatives, we should close down the BBC. We should take it off air. We should disclaim its copyrights. We should throw all its staff into the street, and cancel their pensions. We should not try to privatise the BBC. This would simply be to transfer the voice of our enemy from the public to the private sector, where it might be more effective in its opposition. We must shut it down - and shut it down at once.

We should do the same with much of the administration. The Foreign Office, much of the Home Office, the Commission for Racial Equality, or whatever it is now called, anything to do with health and safety and planning and child protection - I mean much of the public sector - these should be shut down.

If at the end of your first month in power, we have not shut down half of the State, we are failing. If we have shut down half the State, we have made a step in the right direction, and are ready for still further cuts.

Let me emphasise that the purpose of these cuts would not be to save money for the taxpayers or lift an immense weight of bureaucracy from their backs - though they would do this. The purpose is to destroy the ruling class before it can destroy us. We must tear up the web of power and personal connections that make these people effective as an opposition to radical change. If we do this, we shall face no more clamour than if we moved slowly and half-heartedly.

One obvious sign of success will be when depensioned enemies like Neil Kinnock and Peter Mandelson are seen serving on the cheese counter in Sainsbury.

Turning, however, to formally private business, much of this currently supports the ruling class project, and is little more than the economic wing of the ruling class. We should respond to this by removing privileges like limited liability, and forcing all business to internalise their transaction costs. Big business must be ruthlessly stripped of its privileges and made to sink or swim in fully liberated markets.

Following from this, however, we should leave large areas of the welfare state alone. It is regrettable, but most people in this country do like the idea of healthcare free at the point of use, and of free education, and of pensions and unemployment benefit. These must go in the long term. But they must be retained in the short term to maintain electoral support. Their cost and methods of provision should be examined. But cutting welfare provision would be politically unwise in the early days of our revolution.

This is a long speech, and I have not touched on the constitutional arrangements of a restored England. But I must tell you that these will often need to be different from those we have lost, and that organisations like Traditional Britain still celebrate. We shall need to create new structures of power, and new safeguards against abuse of that power. The new order of things will restore the spirit of the old, but cannot be a simple recreation.

Now, one final warning. What I recommend is a revolution – perhaps a counter-revolution, but still a radical break with the present order of things. The problem with all such recommendations is that the extent of present evils is greatly magnified, and the risks of change are minimised. It may be, however, that there is some hidden wisdom in the present order of things that we have overlooked. Or it may be that what we have is the least of available evils. I do not think this is the case. But I feel obliged to mention it. Conservatives, after all, should not wish to copy the mistakes of the French revolutionaries.

Comments

David McDonagh on Sean Gabb

Sean, you speak and write rather like a traditional one nation Tory than a pristine liberal. Nowadays you like Marx. I think that Marx was more in the tradition of being a one nation Tory than he realised, given the fact that his most important ideas, like the labour theory of value and the material conception of history, were mere delusions, lacking all existential import completely. Many feel Marx read a lot of Hegel but he read more of the economists, though Hegel also read the economists, and the then liberal journal, or newspaper [as it now calls itself] The Economist but maybe he read most of all the state bluebooks, mainly written by moralising one nation Tories.
 
I think your talk is largely a Romantic one, by which I mean it is unrealistic as well as in reaction to the idea of Enlightenment. You will not be too surprised to see that I think the main bogus meme, or idea, in your speech/account is that of class. There is a ruling class, of course, but do they have class interests? The class interests related to the factors of production, of land labour and capital, that Marx imagined were in reality always exactly null set, as not for even one moment did such economic class interests ever exist.   Marx thought, or he said he thought, that the landed interests and those of capital merged, so we only had two classes as a result, but in fact there was nothing even remotely like the classes that Marx wrote about in the external world to his text. 
 
England is under attack from Political Correctness [PC], as is also the common sense outlook of the 1950s. You choose to go back to 1914 but I think it is the 1950s that the PC propagandists seem to hate. I loved the 1950s myself. Did it ever rain back then? I suppose it must have, but I recall many fine days.
 
 
I think the PCers attack the nation, as it is a factor in the cause of war.   They also attack the British Empire as that is clearly against their crass ideal of equality, as is any form of the dreaded discrimination; especially on race or sex. Discrimination is also vital to almost any thought at all. Here the PC crew are attempting to overlook what the old eighteenth century Tory, Dr Johnson, rightly saw was a prerequisite of any society: subordination. But, oddly, the hated market gives them not only a fluid institution that breaks down big barriers to entry over time, if not at once, but also organises subordination anarchically. So a job  sweeping the floor at Tescos does not rule one out from taking an Open University degree [that is now run by the state, but as you say the BBC might survive privatisation, so might the OU] and getting to be in the administration of Tescos, or of some other shop, before too long.
 
The crass ideal of equality is basically intolerant, unrealistic and very illiberal. It is an unmitigated evil. But this crass ideal is traditional, as you say. There has never been any shortage of fools who feel that it is right, especially in the colleges. Kant wrote that as well as the categoral imperative [i.e. that uses the criterion that if it is right for me then it would be right for anyone else in my position, on the idea that we can usually spot moral faults in others clearer than we can in ourselves] we need also the hypothetical imperative: that ought implies can; if we cannot do a thing then it is silly to say that we should do it. This is a Christian own goal, as it flattens many things that the Catholics call sin as many of them are impossible to dodge; especially the rather daft idea of St Paul that the thought was often as bad as the deed. If we embrace the hypothetical imperative of Kant, then equality is immediately seen to be faulty ethically; simply because it is impractical.
 
I think that the Enlightenment outlook, as opposed to the Romantic reaction to it, holds that we have no enemies. The very idea of enemies is imagined only by daft Romantics, whom, like the Romantic Marx, thinks class struggle is most realistic and the lack of such false ideas in the outlook of the likes of Robert Owen was intrinsically Utopian.
 
We only have a state and a ruling class as current common sense thinks that politics and government are needed in society. The basic fact here is that politics and the state are dysfunctional. Romance is intrinsically a political paradigm, as it loves the idea of enemies. That idea is political for it is one of cold war or actual war towards others; as is any vote. The Enlightenment paradigm, by contrast, holds that all can gain from greater liberty.
 
On the state, the liberal massage is that politics is wasteful to one and all, that it is against the interests of all to ever have a government.
 
Your message is that England is under attack from the ruling class that has a tradition of its own. You are not too clear on what this tradition is but it seems to be a use of the meme of divide and rule but that Communist Party idea was unrealistic in the assumption that division was needed for any state to rule. The state exists as most think it is needed. Division does not aid it.
 
You say the rulers were basically all right prior to 1914. But since then they make their income out of state control rather than ownership and that makes them less responsible to the masses.  Democracy was not needed when they were more responsible but you feel it is needed now. But you seem to need to master the book Political Parties (1011) Robert Michels that rightly reports that democracy has exactly no change of ever existing,
 
You seem not to notice that self-government is quite absurd. Hence I do admit that there is a ruling class.  But the idea of class is, nevertheless, basically a silly idea.
 
The ideology of PC reflects the common silly idealism of the schoolteachers and college lecturers that are mainly based on crass ignorance as well as the daft dogma of equality. Similarly, the EU is down to idealism on the part of a few like Norman Angell, who fell for the silly idea that it might aid peace as well as being, ironically, a warmongering superstate that can become top state in the world, as the likes of Edward Heath and Michael Heseltine rather hoped. NATO was set up to oppose the Warsaw Pact but looked around for excuses not to dismantle when its aim faded in the 1990s. The WTO is ironically in favour of free trade but sees free trade [as do socialists] as being, somehow, a political aim when it is the very opposite, an aim to get rid of politics.
 
Mass immigration has broken Britain. It would break any traditional nation. It works a bit better in the USA, as the USA is largely a land of immigrants, but note that the pristine natives of America are broken. Those are facts any nationalist can put against free immigration. I set out to admit to some of them in an earlier LA talk. Unlike the rather silly idea of class, the nation is real.
 
But the mess of all against all that you seem to think is deliberate seems to be simply the unintended consequences of the rather stupid ideals that many hold, the top stupidity is indeed PC. It is intolerance pretending to be tolerant. Political rule is from one centre for all and it is a bit like one size fits all but the market, by contrast, allows polycentricity, which allows differences to truly flourish. The state is oppressive in imposing things it earlier banned but the market allows all to live and to let live.
 
What is called the public sector is a public menace and it does need to go but the way it needs to go is by privatisation. It is true that the BBC might survive but if it does then why not let it survive? It began, as did the bank of England, in private hands but no doubt both got way too much aid from the state so were not truly market phenomena but the BBC can now become so. You write of it as if it was totally PC, like sociology and psychology textbooks are today, Sean.  
 
You do not explain why you think that the impoverishment of the masses will aid the ruling class. Indeed, you seem to lose sight of your aim at the beginning as you go on.
 
Your eulogy of Marx makes little sense. It is merely false to say that the aims of Marx were evil.  Not many people have wittingly evil aims.
 
A transfer of power to the people is an incoherent idea. Liberalism seeks to dissolve not transfer crass dysfunctional power. Power is an unnecessary evil.
 
Critical opposition from the BBC is harmless, if not beneficial.
 
The Foreign Office has no merit and it never should have ever existed. Ditto the various PC laws and enforcing commissions that aim to force people to respect the stupid ideal of equality that is PC.
 
The whole state needs to eventually go, but the sooner some of it vanishes the better.
 
I can agree with you when you say:
 
“If at the end of your first month in power, we have not shut down half of the state, we are failing. If we have shut down half the state, we have made a step in the right direction and are ready for still further cuts.”
But if we get there by popular vote then there should be no trouble in doing that but that looks a long way off. It is the winning over of the general public; beginning with the section most interested who are the extraverts or intellectuals that the LA was set up to do. When that has been accomplished then there is little problem in rolling back the state. In any case, this will not be done in time to see either Mandelson or Kinnock work at a supermarket. They will never need to do that.
 
You are not clear on what you think this inexplicit ruling class project is, Sean. Nor is it clear what you mean by the economic wing of the ruling class.
 
 Limited liability is no privilege. It shares risk with others, that is all.
 
Indeed, you do not even seem to be clear on what a privilege is. It is a special favour by the state to aid a few by taxing others. But if it is open to one and all then it is no privilege. The Marxist notion of class privilege is quite absurd; it needs to be caste privilege.  But Marx wanted to go on about class, not caste. So he fell into incoherence. 
 
Then you say that want to leave the welfare state alone, Sean. It is a perfect one nation Tory institution, after all. But why would any pristine liberal want to leave it alone? One of the best things Mrs T did was sell off the council houses. The underclass needs to be removed by getting rid of their institutional base. You say that you think it should be left alone as many people like it. Well, they will no longer like it by the time they are ready to vote a pristine liberal agenda into operation, will they? What you write looks very weak, Sean.
 
In fact, welfare is unpopular today. If people move towards liberalism the welfare state can only get ever more unpopular.
 
However, I would never dream of calling liberalisation by the daft Romance myth of revolution. Creating new structures of power rather than dissolving it will hardly what liberalism results in, either. Liberalism is against power rather than in favour of it.