Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 108
8th August 2003

The Joys of Bookbinding
by Sean Gabb

Introduction

I am on holiday at home. I sit at present much of the time in my garden, reading novels and acquiring a sun tan that will prevent me from burning should Mrs Gabb and I eventually find time for a foreign holiday. When not reading novels, I am thinking about demographic and linguistic change in the Eastern Mediterranean world during and after the time of Justinian.

Politics bore me. As I predicted, the war with Iraq has not been the glorious victory we were told it would be, and Mr Blair—if he has any sense, and he may not—may resign before the political season begins again in September.

And so I will avoid politics for the moment. Here are my thoughts on the joys of bookbinding.

Sean Gabb
August 2003

What do you do with a book when it falls apart? Throwing it away, I hope everyone will agree, is not an option. Killing a book—even in this age of mass publication—is, as Milton said, rather like killing a man. So the choice lies between doing nothing and patching it up. The first may be unsatisfactory: you try reading a book on the Underground when the pages keep dropping out. The second can be little better. Staples, Sellotape, Copydex glue—these do the job after a fashion, but that is not very well. Then I discovered bookbinding.

It was in August 2000, and I was called in by an adult education institute on the edge of London. It had lost its Economics teacher and needed another at short notice. Would I step in? When I was poorer, I used to do a lot of evening work. It can be fun. On the other hand, it makes a long teaching day even longer. The money is never exciting, and this was no exception. But to sweeten the deal, I was told I could join any other evening course as a student and have it for free. Looking through the prospectus, I noticed all the usual things—basket weaving, Gujerati for beginners, seminars on the Irish Question as reflected in the works of Charles Dickens, and so on and so on. And I saw bookbinding. The words jumped off the page at me. I was promised a "course on the repair and maintenance of books, suitable for beginners and for the advanced". The Economics students had their teacher, and I had started a new chapter in my life.

A small man, with a look of the 1940s about his manner and the configuration of his face, my teacher, Alan, had retired twice already. His main career had been producing accounts books for companies in the City. Then he had taught for a couple of years somewhere else. Now he was here, teaching on Tuesday evenings and giving Wednesday afternoons to the overspill. His classroom took up half of one of those prefabricated buildings used for teaching children before the birthrate fell, and was filled with cast iron presses and cutting machines. There was a smell of various glues, of leather, and of all the other necessaries for his craft. He had no clock in the room, but there was a keep fit class for the elderly next door, and the teacher would play the same exercise music in the same order every week. After week three, I doubt if I needed my watch.

I was about the youngest in the class. The other students were mostly retired. The custom was for us all to get on with our own projects, while Alan made a slow circuit, handing out praise and advice as required. Sometimes, he would give a lecture for those interested in hearing—about changes in the manufacture of paper since the 1830s, about how the change from English measurements to the metric system had often led to book production with pages bound against the grain of the paper, and so forth. Sometimes, he would talk about the slow decline of his health or his time in national service, spent in the Canal Zone in Egypt. Sometimes, he would offer short general advice. "You should never not buy a book", he once told me—advice that fell on willing ears, even if my dear wife might have had a reply about the lack of carpentry in my bookshelves. The students themselves would share advice or help, or the usual horrified views on England under the heel of New Labour.

Aside from this, though, we worked in silence. We all had our projects. There was John, a conveyancing solicitor, who seemed to spend the whole evening scraping the insides of leather sheets, to make them thin enough for binding. There was Paul, who was one of the world's leading experts on some species of cuttlefish, and who had been rebinding old books on natural history for about 30 years. There was Barry, who was restoring a pile of books from the 18th century—taking them to pieces and even washing the sheets in a special chemical before putting them back together. There was David, whose project was to rebind the collected works of Agatha Christie in yellow plastic. It sounds a ghastly project. Even so, she was a good novelist, and there was something impressive in the accumulation and uniformity of his achievement.

And there was me. As an absolute beginner, my project was to take an old paperback—the sort made up of cut sheets glued together at the spine, and that disintegrates as you read it—and rebind it in hard covers. During the first month of the course, Alan took me through the basics. First, you get off the old cover and the glue from the spine. You can do this with an industrial guillotine, though taking off more than a 32nd of an inch from the pages makes for a tight read; much better, I soon found, to clamp the book and plane off the glue. Then, the book still clamped, you paint on a thick layer of PVA glue. A wonderful substance this—good for everything from sticking paper to damp-proofing basement walls: whoever invented it deserves a Nobel Prize, or at least to be filthy rich. Then, with a hacksaw, you cut three grooves into the spine, an eighth of an inch deep, and glue in lengths of Irish hemp with a one inch overlap each side. Then you stick on the endpapers, and trim the three outer edges of the book to make them clean and even.

Now comes the really hard part. You need to cut two pieces of book board so they evenly overlap the outer edges by an eighth of an inch and no more. Once cut, you cover these with just the right area of book cloth, leaving just the right width in the middle for the spine. Gluing this to the endpapers and the splayed Irish hemp is the last step, before screwing all into a book press. 90 seconds later, you have your fresh, smooth rebound book, still damp and smelling of the PVA, but revived and in good order for the next hundred years.

Such is the theory. In fact, my first effort—and more than the one after that—was a disappointment. The spine was a quarter inch thicker at the top than at the bottom, and the boards overhung the book with an irregularity that would have inspired an impressionist German film maker of the 1920s. Worse, it refused to open without danger of splitting the endpapers.

But practice makes perfect—or, in my case, it makes tolerable. By Christmas, Alan's face was looking decidedly less cloudy as he inspected my latest efforts, and he was guiding me into the deeper waters of rebinding real books with cow gum and the Oxford hollow.

What did I get out of all this? Well, in the first place, I was now able to walk into a second hand bookshop like a king. No matter how tatty or fragmented it might be, I could buy anything I wanted. I picked up 20 numbers last year of The Edinburgh Review from the 1870s and 80s—reviews in them of The Descent of Man and other late Victorian classics. With all the boards dropped off and most of the spines split, I got them for £20 the lot. Such happy hours—such harmless hours—I spent rebinding them in blue. I am presently at work on an edition of Tacitus that I printed from the Internet, and on a copy of Voltaire's La Pucelle printed in an dix de la République—now there is metrication for you!

What I also got was a greater respect for craftsmanship. However hard we try, intellectuals have a bias to snobbery about manual work. Though useful, these things are dismissed as lower pursuits, with no shame involved in not knowing them. But there is an artistry in producing a well-bound book, not that different from writing one - more, indeed, considering some of the books that get published.

And bookbinding is not merely an honourable but also an old and very conservative craft. A modern case binding is not that different in the technical sense from those of the ancient world. The typical ancient book, of course, was a papyrus roll, about 20 feet long. Just as the playing time of a 78rpm gramophone record standardised the length of popular songs, so the limitations of the papyrus roll - something decided long before in Egypt—fixed the length or divisions of most classical literature. Bound books, or codices, are known from about the time of Christ. Both Horace and Quintillian mention them as notebooks. Martial mentions them as the format for cheap editions. But the pagans tended to stay with the papyrus roll. It seems to have been the Christians who first made regular use of the codex for their literature. Perhaps it was their respect for the written word of God that attracted them to a format so well adapted to ease of referencing.

Whatever the case, the pattern was set very early—quires of four or five sheets folded vertically, stitched in the middle and bound in as many sections as needed or convenient. So far as binding is concerned, the introduction of printing in the 15th century made no change; nor the earlier moves from papyrus to parchment and from parchment to paper. The biggest change before the perfect bound paperbacks of the last century was the introduction of separate machine-made cloth bindings in the 19th century. But on the evenings when John was scraping his leathers to the required thinness, I do not think the binders of the Codex Sinaiaticus from the second century would have found much in my class that was alien to them.

You might suppose, all things considered, that Alan and his dedicated and even adoring students would have been regarded as the glory of that adult education institute, and the main justification of its existence at the taxpayers' expense. Not so. In the two years I spent in his class, he was under constant threat of closure. The health and safety people were forever sniffing round his machines —though to have seen me using one would have given the most indulgent official a fit of the vapours. Then there were the continual warnings from above about the coffee and tea we made for ourselves half way through every lesson. But I think the genuine reason for hostility was that Alan's course did not lead to the getting of paper qualifications that could go on returns to the relevant bureaucracy. Nor did it involve the use of computers; and I know from running my own Economics course there that "education around information technology" was part of the mission statement. I did find an American supplier who offered book cloth that would go through a laser printer, and even the oldest students bought their supplies via the Internet. But these partial adaptations —the sort of thing all true conservatives welcome—did nothing to change the view of bookbinding as a craft out of place in the "high-tech", "learning outcome-based" world of adult education in the 21st century.

About a year ago, Alan retired for the third time and went to live in Wales, and I moved out of London. I like to think that he will be persuaded once more out of retirement. But I do know that if I ever have the same inspiring effect on any of my students as he had on me, teaching will not have been a worthless choice of career.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 124
28th July 2004

An Ode to Timothy Starr,
A Libertarian Who Supported the War with Iraq
by Sean Gabb

That I, unmurdered in my bed,
And Mrs Gabb, unravished,
May count forever on the care
Of Mr Bush and Tony Blair,
Let us give praise to him whose eyes
Have spied for truth among the lies.
Timothy Starr, to thee I sing -
Whose name shall through all ages ring
For statements based on evidence,
Though not perhaps on common sense.
Thou from the first wast quite assured
Mesopotamia's tyrant lord
Had—God knows how, though without right -
Weapons of vast and horrid might,
To use against us in attack,
Or hand around outside Iraq.
Yes, others doubted; others sneered;
Others maintain that none appeared.
But thou, O Timmy, didst cheer on
Those brave, brave men in Washington
To do their duty of defence
Regardless of intelligence.
So Iraq we liberated,
While Dick Cheney's partners waited,
And children there did we compel
To arms or sorrows bid farewell.
Some their monument seek in stone:
Be thine in Baghdad blood and bone.
If it decay, as must all flesh,
There will be minds to keep it fresh.
Therefore, indebted for the care
So lavished from thine office chair,
These verses on our happy state
To thee, O Tim, I dedicate.

I wrote the above lines earlier this month, as part of my continuing debate on the Libertarian-Alliance-Forum—a Yahoo Group—with Tim Starr. This is a noisy, crowded discussion place, where few limits are placed on debate. One of the running debates—not surprisingly, bearing in mind how it divides the whole libertarian movement—is on the war with Iraq. Tim believes passionately in the rightness of that war, and in the basic truth of the intelligence on which its justification rests. I, of course, dispute the whole case. I was moved to verse when I grew bored with arguing over the facts. The verses are deliberately cruel, and it is a severe test of Tim's basically kind nature that he can bring himself even to speak to me again. However, poetic invective has an established place in at least the English political tradition. I cannot hope to compete with Dryden, Swift and Pope and the other great masters of this tradition. Indeed, it was my intention to publish on the LA Forum and the let the piece rest in the archive. But I have been persuaded by some of my fans to publish it in a more accessible medium. And so, if any should think ill of me on account of these verses, blame my nation's political culture—or my own lack thereof.

For those who care about such things, the poem is in rhymed iambic tetrameter, with frequent trochaic substitution in the first foot of each verse. The natural tendency of such lines to diaeresis between the second and third foot is checked in several couplets by a word bridge and by a caesura within the second or third foot. The purpose of these variations is to avoid monotony. The primary model, not surprisingly, is Alexander Pope—though his own preferred form was the heroic couplet—and there are traces of Milton and A.E. Housman.

Postscript: Here are some further verses on the same subject:

With lion heart and strong right arm,
Tim Starr would never flinch from harm,
Yet upright would his nation’s flag
In Baghdad and in Kabul wag.
But wicked lungs, cruel to deny
Tim’s right to join and fight and die!
And so, disabled, from his bed
Must Timmy moderate instead
A distribution list that will
Prompt fitter men to bleed or kill


 

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the
Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 156
26th October 2006

A Brief Guide to Self-Publishing
by Sean Gabb

As you ought by now to be aware, I have written and published a novel. A close friend has told me that my plotting does not compare with that of Marcel Proust, nor my characterisations with those of Dostoyevsky. But he assures me it is otherwise a decent novel. He says he enjoyed reading it. He is, moreover, buying copies to hand round as presents to his friends and loved ones. This is, you will agree, a better indication of what he thinks than any amount of written or spoken praise.

Of course, I invite you to do likewise. I think we have missed Eid and Diwali—I am not prejudiced in these matters—But Christmas and Hannukah are approaching; and I will, for the trifling sum of £8.99 each plus £2 postage and packing, send you any number of copies of The Column of Phocas signed and inscribed with any message you may desire. I will even get Mrs Gabb to gift wrap them.

You can take advantage of my offer by following either of the links at the foot of this article.

But here is an end to my advertising. Several people have asked me in the past few weeks how I managed to publish a book that looks like a real book and can be sold on the Internet and via Amazon. So I will go now into the whys and hows of self-publishing.

I begin with why. As said, I have written a decent novel. It only took a few weeks to write on my various railway journeys; and though it is taking longer because of my other commitments, the sequel is just as easy. My problem was not with the writing, but with getting someone else to publish me.

From my reading of literary biography, there was a time when you could write a novel, and then send it off—perhaps under a pseudonym—to a publisher, who would carefully read it and then bring it out in a limited edition to see how it might sell. If it ever existed, that time is passed. Most publishers nowadays are members of large conglomerates. For them, a novel is a commodity, and the lower the speculative element in publication, the better it is for them. They want something in a style that is currently popular, and preferably from an author who is already known. So what if the product is ghost written trash fathered on a television personality? Their object—and I do not think it fair to complain—is not to promote literature, but to make a profit. If, like me, you are unknown as a writer of fiction, and if you write a novel that does not easily fit into one of the established categories, you have very little chance.

And you have very little chance even if what you have written is manifestly outstanding. I do not think much of the Harry Potter books. But, plainly, many other people disagree with me. Even so, J.K. Rowling took years to get her first novel accepted for publication. If, like me, you are merely decent, the outlook must be gloomy.

Indeed, in recent years, publishers have tended to refuse all manuscripts submitted directly. The spread of word processing has made it easier than ever before to write fiction, and publishers have been overwhelmed by submissions of variable quality. They have therefore taken to considering only work submitted through a literary agent.

But this has simply transferred the flood of initial submissions to the agents. These also cannot cope; and so they have adopted policies as restrictive as those of the publishers before they stopped accepting submissions directly.

The result is that, unless you are unusually enterprising and persistent, or lucky, you will not get your first novel—or your first book, for that matter—published so easily as you might in the past.

The answer is not to sit about, lamenting a state of affairs you can do nothing to change. It is to do the whole job yourself.

This is much easier than ever before. When I first looked at self-publication in the 1980s, I had a choice between spending an ocean of money and producing something that looked like a school newsletter. I could use a manual typewriter to punch holes in a stencil, and then run off jagged and whimsically faded copies on a duplicator. I was once told, let me add, that they only way to avoid getting ink on your clothes is to strip naked within a yard of any duplicator. I can tell you this is good advice! This done, I could staple the sheets together, and hope what I had written would be read without too much prejudice against its format. Otherwise, I could put myself into the hands of the vanity publishers. These might produce something vaguely resembling a book. But they might not. Whatever the case, they would run off thousands of copies and charge a prohibitive unit price. No bookshop would stock them. No mainstream publication would review them.

The technological revolution of the past few decades has made all this a distant memory. Using Microsoft Word, or any other word processing software, you can format a book in any style that takes your fancy. My own preferred style is the "Everyman" series. This may not be suitable for a new novel. But that was a matter of my own possibly defective judgement. You can format an archetype in any font you please, justified as you please, with headers and page numbers. You can even generate an index if that is what you want. This requires some familiarity with computers. But it is probably less difficult to acquire than to use a sewing machine effectively or to learn how to drive.

Next, you need a cover. You can do this also in Word, though I prefer to use Publisher, which comes with the more expensive versions of Microsoft Office. This gives much greater freedom with positioning text and pictures and the spine. Again, getting the cover right is a matter of judgement that some people have and others have not. This being said, there are templates for book covers all over the Internet; and anyone can produce a basic cover.

Then there is the matter of an ISBN. I believe these were introduced in the 1960s by the British publishing trade as a means of identifying a stock of new publications that was already expanding beyond manageable limits. An ISBN is made up of eight digits that remain constant and identify the publisher, plus two digits that identify the publication, and a final checksum digit to ensure soundness of the whole. The numbering system—it will soon contain 13 digits—is now used in just about every country. It allows books to be traced more effectively than would otherwise be possible.

The problem emerging is that book shops tend to refuse anything that is without an ISBN. Certainly, on-line booksellers like Amazon will not touch anything without one.

But this is a problem easily solved. When Chris R. Tame and I started the Hampden Press in 2001, we obtained an eight digit ISBN and a sample eleven digit ISBN for free. We were then expected to buy further numbers. I believe this practice has now changed, and you must pay for the first ISBNs. I doubt, though, if they are very expensive. I do not know where you should go for your ISBNs now, as the company we used has been bought by Nielsen Bookdata. But in England, you can try Carolyn Timms of Nielsen Bookdata. She will point you in the right direction. In America, there is bip.bowkerlink@bowker.com  at RR Bowker Books in Print.

As for buying subsequent numbers, there are websites that will automatically generate them for free once you have the initial eight digit number. The one I use is provided by The College Park Press.

You may also want to translate your ISBN to a bar code with another number the function of which escapes me. There are also free services on the Internet that will do this. The one I use is provided by Robbie's ISBN Bar Code Generator.

It is not enough, of course, to generate an ISBN. You must also register this with the various bibliographical agencies. Without this, your book will not appear on any of the databases, and might as well not exist. You can register by approaching the English and American companies given above.

Now, there is the printing. My experience is that an initial print run should be around a thousand copies. Fewer, and your unit costs will be high, and you may run out of copies. More, and first delivery of boxes may get you into the divorce court. Printing remains expensive, whatever your print run, and it is worth shopping round for quotations. Some of these can be prohibitive. The cheapest printer I have been able to find in England is Biddles. These print the "Modern Masters" series and provide a fast and professional service, so long as you provide them with the right kind of pdf file. My unit cost for The Column of Phocas was only £1.30. Assuming a unit price of £8.99, this leaves a tidy sum to cover other expenses or to be regarded as profit.

We come finally to the marketing. Here, I must confess, I am not very good. I have generated some publicity in the local media, and have had some flattering reviews placed on Amazon. I have also nagged all my friends into buying copies. But my distribution of copies to friends in the national media has resulted so far in no publicity. Nor have I been very enterprising at getting my novel into the bookshops.

But this is something of which you may have greater knowledge. Indeed, since I have shared all I know of publishing, you may care to reciprocate with some advice on marketing.

So, there it is—self-publishing made easy.

I regret that, unless I am one of your close friends, or have some reasonable expectation of services from you, I will give no personal advice to authors beyond what I have given above. This is not because I am particularly unfriendly. It is a simple acknowledgement of the fact that I am both busy with earning a living and profoundly idle when it comes to replying to e-mails. By all means, write if you must. But do not be disappointed if you hear nothing back.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the
Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 158
31st March 2007

The Emperor Has No Clothes:
by Sean Gabb

On Fraternity:
Politics beyond Liberty and Equality

Danny Kruger
Civitas, London, 2007, 95pp, £7.50 (pbk)
ISBN 978 1 903386 57 6

At the beginning of the short book, its author insists that "I do not speak for the Conservative Party". This being said, Dr Kruger is a special adviser to David Cameron and is a former leader writer for The Daily Telegraph. He also showed the manuscript of his book to David Willetts, Oliver Letwin, Daniel Hannan, and to various other people more or less closely connected with the Leader of the Conservative Party. It was, moreover, discussed before publication at one of the lunchtime seminars hosted by Civitas. I have attended several of these, and it is easy to imagine that this one was attended by just about every important academic or intellectual connected with the Conservative Party.

The disclaimer, therefore, is a matter of form. The book is—and is intended to be regarded as—an authoritative statement of Conservative Party thought. I do not see how there can be any reasonable doubt of this. But it is a point that I must ask my readers to bear continually in mind. I once sat next to Dr Kruger at a private dinner party. I do not recall that we disagreed on anything. He wrote a very nice article last year, regretting the death of Chris Tame. Some of the names given his his Acknowledgements are of friends. If I now say that this book is an intellectual fraud in its intention, and shabby in its execution, I hope he and they and you will not take my comments as personal.

So far as I can understand him, Dr Kruger is trying to analyse the current state of affairs in this country. During the second half of the twentieth century, he says, we tried two great experiments. The first was socialist equality. This began to break down in the 1960s, when trade union privilege and heavy spending on welfare led to inflation and a loss of competitiveness.

The second was a return to market liberty under Margaret Thatcher. This restored the economy, but led to a collapse of various customs and institutions that gave meaning to the lives of individuals. Before coming to power in 1997, Tony Blair did promise to sort out the resulting disorder and general loss of faith in the system. However, since then, that promise has been comprehensively broken. We therefore need a new government that will reconcile the jointly necessary but often opposed impulses of liberty and equality. Thus the title of the book.

Exactly how these impulses are to be reconciled within a new and stable order is not made clear. But Dr Kruger does excuse himself in advance with the statement:

In this essay I try to outline the political philosophy which justifies the 'communal [but] not official'. It is necessarily abstract, a 'resort to theories', in Burke's disparaging aside. It is devoid of detailed policy, yet I hope it demonstrates that, all our common rhetoric notwithstanding, there are real differences between Right and Left, founded on very different ideas of how society works.[p.11]

This is a wise excuse, as it saves Dr Kruger from having to admit the fraudulent nature of his analysis. For there was no return to market liberty in the 1980s. If it took me until nearly the end of the decade to shake off the false assumptions I had made as a teenager, I was one of the earliest conservatives to understand the real nature of the Thatcher project. It was to reconcile the fact of an extended and meddling state apparatus, plus big business privilege, with the need to generate enough wealth to pay for it all.

There was no reduction in tax for the middle classes. There was no overall cutting of regulations. Instead, the taxes and regulations were revised so that we could, by immense hard work, reverse the long term relative decline of the British economy.

As for the working classes, their ability to slow the growth of gross domestic product was checked by the ending of various—and perhaps indefensible—protections, and by the importation of a new proletariat from elsewhere in the world that had no perceived commonality of interest with the native working classes, and that would, by its presence, drive down their living standards.

So much for economic liberty. Where other liberties were concerned, we saw a consistent rolling back of the gains made since about 1600. Procedural safeguards were shredded, so that the law was turned from a shield for the people into a sword for the state. A close surveillance was imposed over our financial affairs. Freedom of speech and association were eroded—partly by direct changes in the law, partly by creating a general environment within which disobedience to the expressed will of the authorities became unwise. At the same time, verbal and institutional associations that bound us to a more liberal past were progressively broken; and structures of democratic accountability were replaced by indirect rule from Brussels and from a more general New World Order.

The election of a New Labour Government changed very little. Government under Tony Blair became more politically correct than it would have been under the Conservatives. But this was balanced by a greater caution in matters of European harmonisation. The destruction of the Common Law and its replacement by a panopticon police state went on regardless.

There is not—and has not been during the past quarter century—any political conflict in this country between liberty and equality. We are both less equal today than we were in about 1980, and we are less free. Such debate as there is between the two main political parties is over details. The project common to both Labour and Conservative Parties is the transformation of this country into a place where the upper reaches of the ruling class can enjoy a status and relative wealth not known since early Stuart times—and in which there can be no challenge from below.

The Conservatives under Mrs Thatcher started this. It was continued by Labour under Mr Blair. It will not be reversed by the Conservatives under Mr Cameron.

Given these facts, it is not surprising that Dr Kruger has refused to discuss any detailed policies. Where nothing new is intended, nothing at all should be promised.

But this brings me to the apparent purpose of the book. Our politics may be degraded from the level even of the late 1970s. But we have yet to sink entirely to the level of America, where elections seem to be decided wholly by money and competing armies of drum majorettes. It is still expected that political debate in this country should proceed from an intellectual basis. The Conservatives have no intellectual basis that they dare honestly explain to us. They must at the same time convey the impression of one. They have, therefore, put Dr Kruger up to write a whole book about Conservative principle, but to do so in a way that will allow almost no one to understand him.

The language of his book is in all matters of importance pretentious and obscure.

Take, for example, this:

Central to the Hegelian concept of Aufhebung or 'sublation' is the preservation of the antithetic stages passed through by the thesis. Not only is the thesis 'realised' by its sublation: the antithesis too is strengthened and perpetuated. But the thesis only preserves those elements of the antithesis it finds conducive to itself—there must be, in the key Hegelian word, an 'ethical' relationship between thesis and antithesis, by which one relates to another in a natural and organic manner.[p.18]

Or take this:

The person abstracted from all contingent circumstances—the main in isolation—is not truly a man at all, merely (Hegel again) 'the sheer empty unit of the person'. The original Kantian individual who signs the social contract from behind the veil of ignorance, with his objective intellect and dispassionate morality, is admirable and necessary. But he is not enough.[p.49]

Or take this:

For freedom is attained, said Hegel, not by the individual divorcing himself from society but by marrying it. True—what he called 'concrete'—freedom is not 'the freedom of the void'. It is the freedom of 'finding oneself' in society; of 'being with oneself in another'. By my marriage with society I attain my true self, which before was abstract. I am realised, socialised; I whisk aside the veil of ignorance, 'the colourful canvass of the world is before me'; I plunge into it, and find myself 'at home'.[p.51]

The meaning of this second and third can perhaps be recovered. They appear to mean that individuals function best when they are surrounded by familiar things that give meaning and security to their lives. As to the first, your guess is as good as mine.

There is page after page of this stuff. We have commonplaces dressed up to look profound. We have manifest nonsense. We have knowing references to Plato and Aristotle and Hobbes and Burke and Mill. We have untranslated words and phrases, or words that have been taken into English but never widely used. There is, of course, "Aufhebung". This is at least translated—though, until I looked it up in a dictionary, I could only understand "sublation" from its Latin roots. But there is also "noumenal"[p.13], "heteronomous"[p.38], "soixantes-huitards"[p.40], "thetic"[p.66], and much else besides. Oh—and we have the word "discombobulated"[p.58]. This is an illiterate Americanism from the 1830s, and has no fixed meaning. Such meaning as Dr Kruger gives it must be gathered from the context in which he uses it.

There are many subjects, I grant, discussion of which requires a specialised language. There is music. There is the law. There are the natural sciences. But this is so only for the most elaborate discussions. For basic presentations, plain English has always been found sufficient. And it is not so for discussing political philosophy. For this, plain English is ideally suited. I do know languages—Slovak, for example—where foreign or unfamiliar words are needed for meaningful discussion of political philosophy. Even here, though, I deny the utility of asking thinkers like Hegel or Kant for guidance. German philosophy is notoriously a learned gibberish. For nearly two centuries, it has been used to justify every imaginable lapse from humanity and common sense. Dr Kruger is supposed to be an expert on Edmund Burke. It is worth asking why he has, on this occasion, avoided all attempt at imitating the clear English of the Enlightenment.

The likeliest answer is that enlightenment is not among his intentions. As said, that must be to express himself in a manner that almost none of his readers will understand. This book has been sent out for review to hundreds of journalists and general formers of opinion. It is hoped that these will all skim though it and scratch their heads. "What a bright young man this is" we are all to say. "What he says is all above my head, but I do not wish to look stupid, so will join in the applause at his erudition and profundity."

It is all like the story of the Emperor's New Clothes. Newspaper articles will be written about the "intellectual revival" in the Conservative Party. Gossip columns will be filled with references to the gigantic intellect of Dr Kruger. Even hostile articles about Mr Cameron will contain some flattering mention of the philosophical depths with which he has been put in touch.

If this were all one could say about his book, there would be much reason to condemn Dr Kruger. But there is more. His book is not only pretentious and obscure. It is also incompetent. If he were one of my students, and he were to offer this to me as a long undergraduate essay, he would have it thrown straight back in his face.

Look at this:

But the 1980s also saw the defoliation of the natural landscape. In The City of God Augustine quotes a Briton saying 'the Romans make a desert and they call it peace'.[p.2]

Never mind that defoliation happens to trees, not natural landscapes. What matters here is that St Augustine did not say this, and could not have said it, bearing in mind the purpose of his City of God. The correct reference is to Tacitus in his biography of Agricola: "Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium atque ubi solitudinem faciunt pacem appellant". Dr Kruger went, I believe, to an expensive public school, I to a comprehensive school in South London. Perhaps the classical languages are not so well studied in these former places as they once were. But anyone who wants to quote the ancients should make at least some effort to do it properly.

Is this pedantry? I do not think so. The quotation should be familiar to everyone of moderate education—even to people who do not know Latin. Its use is not absolutely required for the meaning of what Dr Kruger is trying to say. Like much else, it is there to impress. And he gets it wrong. And the fault is not confined to him. This book has gone through many drafts. Remember that it has been read and discussed by every intellectual close to the Conservative leadership. Even so, this glaring error on the second page was not picked up and corrected. This says more about the intellectual quality of modern Conservatives than anything else in the book.

Or take the casual reference on p.71 to Frederic Bastiat as a "nineteenth-century anarchist". Bastiat believed in far less government than Dr Kruger or his employers. But he was a liberal, not an anarchist.

Or take this:

Not everything that 'is permitted', said St Paul: 'is beneficial'.[p.55]

This is a reference to 1 Corinthians 10:23: "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not". The meaning of the verse is difficult, and may refer to the eating of sacrificial meat. It does nothing to advance whatever point Dr Kruger is making. It is, again, there to give an impression of learning that he does not seem, on examination, to possess.

Or take this:

'The state is an association' says Aristotle in the first sentence of The Politics.[p.79]

Aristotle may not have said this. In Greek, he says—and do pardon the Roman transliteration—"epeide pasan polin horomen koinosian...". The word in question is given in the standard translations as "community". It might bear the Oakeshottian sense of "association"—but this is a gloss that needs to be explained.

Or—to inhale yet another blast of Teutonic hot air—take this:

Hegel famously argued that the slave could be more 'free' than the master, for the slave is contextualised, subject to circumstances, and related to his fellows even if only through their common bondage. Even though he lacks liberty, one of the three rights of negative freedom (even slaves, in ancient Rome, had the right to life and property), he has more positive freedom than his master, whose wealth makes him independent, and so unrelated to others. The slave is realised, and the master is not.[p.70]

Regardless of whether Hegel actually said anything so ridiculous—not that I would put anything past him—these words astonish me. In the first place, Roman slaves did not have a right to life: they had, from fairly late in the Imperial period, a right not to be butchered by their masters without what a court run by other slaveholders considered to be good reason. Their property was at best a peculium, to which they had no legal right. In the second place, no playing with words can possibly obliterate the factual difference between freeman and slave. If Dr Kruger doubts this, I only wish I could oblige by chaining him to an oar for a few days, or putting him in one of those disgusting underground prisons, or setting him to tend the fish for Vedius Pollio.

Much else in this book is worth despising. These three sentences simply make me angry.

But I turn back to the foreign words. I have found three uses of "Aufhebung". These all look like the products of a cut and paste operation. They are all unexplained. When I come across phrases like "the crash of Platonic speculation into Aristotelian reality"[p.19], I now find it worth asking if Dr Kruger himself has the foggiest idea what he is trying to say.

Some decent endnotes might help to answer this question. But the notes are about as slipshod as they could be without not being added at all. Quotations are referenced with the author and title and date of the relevant work. But no editions or page numbers are given. Bearing in mind the length and complexity of the works cited—by Adam Smith, Hegel and Hayek, for instance—we can legitimately wonder how many of these Dr Kruger has actually read.

Of course, I blame the Conservative leadership for trying to make us believe it intends to do other than continue the work of turning England into the sort of despotism that would have made James II gasp and stare. But I also blame Dr Kruger for executing his commission so incompetently. And I must blame many of my friends for having let their names be used as an endorsement of his efforts—and for having brought themselves into disrepute by not objecting to so many scandalous blunders.

Above all, I blame Civitas—otherwise the most authoritative and radical of modern policy institutes. It has published the longest petition of intellectual bankruptcy I have read in years. I do most strongly urge David Green to withdraw this book at once and remove it from the Civitas catalogue.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 180
8th February 2009

On Golliwogs, One-Eyed Scottish Idiots,
and Sending Poo Through the Post
by Sean Gabb

In England, one of those weeks has just ended that define an entire period. This is no consolation for those who have suffered, and who may yet suffer worse. But I have no doubt that it is worth describing what has happened and trying to explain what it means.

Let me begin with the facts.

First, it was reported on the 3rd February 2009 that Carol Thatcher, daughter of Margaret Thatcher, had been dismissed from her job as a BBC presenter for having called a black tennis player a golliwog. She did not say this on air, but during a private conversation. Even so, the BBC defended its decision on the grounds that any language of a "racist nature" was "wholly unacceptable".

Second, demands are rising at the moment for Jeremy Clarkson, another presenter at the BBC, to be dismissed for having called the Prime Minister a "one-eyed Scottish idiot who keeps telling us everything's fine". Various Scotch politicians and spokesmen for the blind let up an immediate chorus of horror that has resulted in a conditional apology from Mr Clarkson, but may not save his career.

Third, it was reported on the 2nd February 2009 that the comedian and Labour Party supporter Jo Brand was being investigated by the police for allegedly inciting criminal acts against her political opponents. While presenting a BBC television programme on the 16th January 2009, she rejoiced that the membership list of the British National Party had been stolen and published on the Internet. Her exact words were: "Hurrah! Now we know who to send the poo to". The natural meaning of her words was that it would be a fine idea to look up members of this party and send excrement to them through the post. The British National Party put in an immediate complaint, using the hate speech laws made during the past generation. According to a BBC spokesman, "We do not comment on police matters. However, we believe the audience would have understood the satirical nature of the remarks". It is relevant to note that Mrs Brand was present when Carol Thatcher made her "golliwog" remarks, and may have had a hand in denouncing her.

Fourth, In The Times on the 6th February, someone called Matthew Syed wrote how personally oppressed he felt by words like "golliwog", and how good it was that "society" was taking a stand against them. Two pages later, someone called Frank Skinner defended the employers in the north of England who prefer to employ foreigners on the grounds that foreigners are "better looking" and "less trouble". The possibility that he has broken one of our hate speech laws will probably never be considered.

This is a gathering of facts that occurred or were made public during one week. But if we relax the time limit, similar facts pour in beyond counting. There was, for example, the pillorying last month of one of the Queen's grandsons for calling someone a "Paki". Or, to give myself as an example, there was my BBC debate of the 16th February 2004 with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, an Asian immigrant who seems incapable of seeing any issue except in terms of white racism. During this debate, I asked her: "Yasmin, are you saying that the white majority in this country is so seething with hatred and discontent that it is only restrained by law from rising up and tearing all the ethnic minorities to pieces?" Her answer was "Yes". It is possible she did not understand my question. It is possible she would have clarified or retracted her answer had the debate been allowed to continue. Sadly for her, the BBC immediately switched off my microphone and threw me into the street. Mrs Brown was allowed to continue uninterrupted to till the end of the programme. The hundreds of complaints received by the BBC and the Commission for Racial Equality were all either ignored or dismissed with the assurance that nothing untoward had taken place in the studio. I accept that Mrs Brown might not have meant what she said. Had I made such a comment about Asians or blacks, however, I might have been facing a long stretch in prison.

But let me return to the most recent facts. The most obvious reason why these broadly similar incidents are being treated so differently is that Jo Brand and Frank Skinner are members of the new ruling class that formally took power in 1997. They can vilify their opponents as freely as Dr Goebbels did his. Any of the hate speech laws that might - objectively read - moderate their language will be regarded as nullities. The police had no choice but to investigate Mrs Brand for her alleged offence committed live on television before several million people. But they made it clear that no charges would result. According to a police spokesman, "The chances of this going further are very remote. The idea that the BNP are claiming they are the victim of a race offence is mildly amusing, to say the least". It may be amusing. The statement itself is interesting, though, as a formal admission that law in this country now means whatever the executive finds convenient.

Carol Thatcher and Jeremy Clarkson are not members of the the ruling class. They have no such immunity. Mr Clarkson may get away with his act of hate speech because he is popular and clever, and because the main object of his contempt is only the Prime Minister. Miss Thatcher may not be allowed to get away with her act. She used a word that borders on the illegal. And she is the daughter of Margaret Thatcher. She is the daughter, that is, of the woman elected and re-elected three times on the promise that she would make the British State smaller and stop it from being made the vehicle for a totalitarian revolution by stealth. Of course, she broke her promises. She did nothing to stop the takeover of the state administration by politically correct totalitarians. But there was a while when the people who actually won the cultural revolution in this country thought they would lose. They looked at her rhetoric. They noted the millions of votes she piled up in her second and third general elections. And they trembled. As said, they won. Mrs Thatcher herself is too old to suffer more than endless blackening at the hands of the victors who now comprise the ruling class. But they still tremble at the thought of how her shadow darkened their 1980s. And if they can do nothing to her now, her daughter can be ruined, and that will now be tried with every chance of success.

It might be argued that what Miss Thatcher and Mr Clarkson said was offensive, and that they are in trouble because we have a much greater regard for politeness than used to be the case. Perhaps it is offensive to say that a black man looks like a golliwog. Perhaps it is offensive to imply that Scotchmen are idiots or that people with defective sight also have defective judgement. It might be. But it might also be offensive to millions of people that the BBC - which is funded by a compulsory levy on everyone who can receive television signals - broadcasts a continual stream of nudity and obscene language; and that it pays the biggest salary in its history to Jonathan Ross, whose only public talent is for foul-mouthed buffoonery. The British ruling class - especially through the BBC, its main propaganda outreach - has a highly selective view of what is offensive.

And it is worth replying that the alleged offensiveness of the statements is minimal. Let us forget about golliwogs and implied sneers at the blind. Let us take the word "nigger". Now, this has not been a word admitted in polite company in England since about the end of the eighteenth century. Anyone who does use the word shows himself a person of low breeding. Whatever its origins, its use for centuries has been as an insult to black people. Any reasonable black man, therefore, called a nigger, has cause to take offence.

This being said, only moderate offence can be reasonable. Anyone who runs about, wailing that he has been hurt by a word as if it were a stick taken to his back, and calling for laws and social ostracism to punish the speaker, is a fool or a villain. And I can think of few other epithets that a reasonable person would greet with more than a raised eyebrow - "poof", "paki", "papist", "mohammedan", "chinkie" and the like. Anyone who finds these words at the very worst annoying should grow up. We can be quite sure that most of the Asian languages now spoken in this country contain some very unflattering words to describe the English - for example, goreh, gweilo, and so forth. There is no pressure, internal or external, for these to be dropped. And we know that there are any number of organisations set up by and for non-whites in this country from which the English are barred - for example, the National Black Police Association.

However, the highly selective use of speech codes and hate speech laws has nothing really to do with politeness. It is about power. The British ruling class may talk the language of love and diversity and inclusiveness. What it obviously wants is the unlimited power to plunder and enslave us, while scaring us into the appearance of gratitude for our dispossession. Because the tyrannised are always the majority in a tyranny, they must be somehow prevented from combining. The soviet socialists and the national socialists kept control by the arbitrary arrest and torture or murder of suspected opponents. That is not presently acceptable in England or in the English world. Control here is kept by defining all opposition as "hatred" - and by defining all acts or attitudes that might enable opposition as "hatred".

I am the Director of the Libertarian Alliance. Not surprisingly, my own opposition to the rising tide of despotism is grounded on a belief in individual rights. I may occasionally talk about my ancestral rights as an Englishman, or about how my ancestors fought and died so I could enjoy some now threatened right. I may sometimes half-believe my rhetoric. Ultimately, though, I believe that people have - or should be regarded as having - rights to life, liberty and property by virtue of their human status. Anything else I say really is just a rhetorical device. This is not the case with most other people. For them, opposing the encroachments of a ruling class is grounded on collective identity - "they can't do that to us". Now, this sense of collective identity may derive from common religion, common loyalty, common culture, but most often and most powerfully - though these other sources may also be important - from perceived commonality of blood.

Now, this collective identity is not something that is seen at times of emergency, but otherwise is in abeyance. It is important in times of emergency so far as it is always present. People work together when they must because, at all other times, they have a mass of shared rituals and understandings that hold them together. These shared things often define a people in terms of their distinctness from others. Jokes beginning "There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotchman" or "What do you call a Frenchman who...?" are part of what reinforces an English identity. So too are comments and gestures and assumptions that assert the superiority of the English over other peoples. To change my focus for a moment, take the phrase "Goyishe Kopf" - Gentile brains! This is what some Jews say when they do something stupid. It can be taken as expressing hatred and contempt of non-Jews. More reasonably, it is one of those comments that reinforce the Jewish identity.

What Carol Thatcher said was part of this reminding of identity. Her exact words, so far as I can tell, were: "You also have to consider the frogs. You know, that froggy golliwog guy". The meaning she was trying to convey was: "let us consider how quaint and absurd outsiders are. Is it not nice that we are members of the same group, and that we are so clever and so beautiful?" I am not saying that I approve of what she actually said. Indeed, she would have done better for herself and the English in general had she kept her mouth shut.  Calling someone "froggy" is neither here nor there. Calling him a "golliwog" is moderately hurtful. Saying this on BBC premises, and in front of people like Jo Brand, shows that Miss Thatcher is stupid or that she was drunk. Her words, as reported, do less to reinforce English identity than make the whole thing an embarrassment.

However - her name always aside - she is being punished not because her words were crass, but because they fell into the category of actions that must at all times be discouraged. Powerful or crass to the point of embarrassment, nothing must be tolerated that might tend to promote an English identity. I say an English identity. The rule does not apply to Scotch or Welsh or Irish nationalism. These are not regarded as a danger to the ruling class project of total enslavement. They are controllable by subsidy. More usefully, they are anti-English. The various ethnic nationalisms and Islamic identities are likewise allowed or encouraged. They are not perceived as a danger to the ruling class project of total domination, and may be used against the English. It is English identity that must at all costs be repressed. The English are still the largest national group in these islands, and will remain so at least until 2040, when there may be a non-white majority all through the United Kingdom. English national ways are the raw material from which every liberal doctrine has been refined. The English are an unpleasantly violent nation when pushed too far.

This explains why words and expressions are defined almost at random as "hatred", and why names of groups and places keep changing almost at random. The purpose is not to protect various minority groups from being hurt - though clever members of these groups may take advantage of the protections. The real purpose is to hobble all expression of English identity. It is to make the words and phrases that come most readily to mind unusable, or usable only with clarifications and pre-emptive cringes that rob them of all power to express protest. Or it is to force people to consult their opponents on what words are currently acceptable - and whoever is allowed to control the terms of debate is likely to win the debate.

And look how easily it can be done. Also during the past week, we have seen working class demonstrations in the north of England against the employment of foreign workers. "British jobs for British workers" they have been chanting. A few raised eyebrows and warnings from Peter Mandelson about the "politics of xenophobia", and the trade unions have straightaway sold out their members and are preparing to bully them back to work. Better that trade union members scrabble to work for a pound an hour, or whatever, than that they should be suffered to use words like "Eyeties" or "Dagoes".

I should end by suggesting what can be done to counter this strategy. I suppose the answer is not to behave like Carol Thatcher. We must accept that certain words and phrases have been demonised beyond defence. Some of them are indefensible. These must be dropped. Others that are just about permissible - Scotchman, for example - should be used and defended on all occasions. We should also at all times bear in mind that political correctness is not about protecting the weak but disarming the potentially strong, and it must be made clear to the ruling class that its management of language has been noticed and understood and rejected. A strategy of apparently casual offence, followed by partial and unconvincing apology - of the sort that we may have seen from Jeremy Clarkson - may also be appropriate.

Another strategy worth considering is the one adopted by the British National Party. In a free country, Jo Brand would be at perfect liberty to incite criminal acts against unnamed and reasonably unidentifiable people. But we do not live in a free country. There is a mass of laws that criminalise speech that was legal even a few years ago. The response to this is to invoke the laws against those who called for them. As said, people like Jo Brand and Yasmin Alibhai Brown are unlikely ever to be prosecuted for crimes of hate speech. But the authorities will occasionally be forced to go through the motions of investigating, and this can be made a form of harassment amounting to revenge. Otherwise, it is useful to establish beyond doubt that the laws are not intended to be enforced according to their apparently universal working.

There is much else to be said. But I suppose the most important thing is not to behave like Carol Thatcher. It will be unfair if she is broken by her words. But if you stick your head into a lion's mouth, you cannot really complain when you feel the teeth closing round your neck.

All told, this has been an interesting week. Understood rightly, it may turn out to have been a most productive week.

Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 200
26th November 2010

The Passive Smoking Scare:
When Ruling Class Propaganda Masquerades as Science

by Sean Gabb

One of the main news items for today is yet another report on passive smoking. This one was published by the World Health Organisation, and claims that, every year and all over the world, 603,000 non-smokers die from inhaling the tobacco smoke of others. A third of these, it adds, are children, and they are often exposed to smoke in their homes. These conclusions are based on looking at deaths during 2004 in 192 countries.

Science or Propaganda?

As science, this Report is worthless. Common sense alone should tell us that. Its purpose, beyond any reasonable doubt, is not to describe the world, but to justify the power of those who rule the world. It is meant to justify taxes and other aggressions against the masses, and to justify the employment of an army of clients. Modern states have no precedent in the scale of what they can steal, and no single ideology is nowadays sufficient to legitimise what they do. But the anti-smoking movement is an important strand in the coalition of forces that comprise the managerial state. Together with political correctness, environmentalism, health and safety, and a general desire to regulate every aspect of our lives, the war against tobacco is an equivalent of the obsession with religious conformity or the passion for big military establishments that legitimised earlier ruling classes.

For evidence, look at this quotation from the BBC coverage of the Report:

“This helps us understand the real toll of tobacco,” said Armando Peruga, of the WHO’s Tobacco-Free Initiative, who led the study.

The name alone of this organisation tells us that the Report is propaganda. The Tobacco-Free Initiative was no more likely to find against passive smoking than the Roman Catholic Church is to find against the Divinity of Christ. Then there are the recommendations of the Report. These are

that the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control should be enforced immediately to create complete smoke-free environments in all indoor workplaces, public places, and on public transport. [p7 of the Report]

It is accepted that a ban on smoking at home is for the moment unenforceable. But the Report continues:

[T]hese policies contribute decisively to denormalise smoking, and help with the approval and implementation of other policies that reduce tobacco demand, such as increased tobacco taxes and a comprehensive ban of tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship. [ibid.]

It is all entirely predictable. The Report is one more work of anti-smoking propaganda. The final objective is a world where no one smokes. This is to be achieved one step at a time. If it cannot yet be banned in the home, smoking can be banned everywhere else. When I heard the wireless coverage this morning, I dismissed the Report out of hand. Now that I have read it, I am in no doubt of its nature.

However, since I have taken the trouble to read it, I might as well explain why the Report is worthless in its specific claims about the 603,000 deaths from passive smoking.

Proving the Danger of Active Smoking

I will begin by noting that around 60 million people are said to have died in 2004. Of this number, 603,000 is around one per cent. Most governments are incapable of collecting even the more obvious vital statistics. Probably most African governments have no idea how many people die of diseases like tuberculosis or malaria – and these are direct causes of death.  Probably, they have no real idea of how many people are born or die every year. Expecting there to be reliable statistics about passive smoking – which is only said to be a cause of other causes of death – from even a minority of the 192 countries surveyed requires heroic faith in the honesty and competence of people notorious for their incompetence and dishonesty. Indeed, the Report does not claim reliable statistics. It admits that

[f]or countries without survey data about second-hand smoke, exposure was modelled. [p.3 of the Report]

That is, the figures were guessed. Anyone who has followed the debate over “climate change” will know that facts derived from computer modelling are at best doubtful.

But, numbers aside, I really doubt if there is reason to suppose that passive smoking is a cause of other causes of death. Even for active smoking, the evidence of harm is rather weak. It seems reasonable to say that inhaling large amounts of vegetable smoke does the lungs no good. But it is very hard to say what long term harm it does. Once we look beyond the propagandistic claim that smoking is the biggest preventable cause of fatal illnesses, we see only a mass of conjectures. Because we have been able to observe their entire progress, we know the causes of tuberculosis and malaria. We have been able to gather data and make and test hypotheses. We are not in this position where heart disease and lung cancer are concerned. These appear to have long preparatory stages, during which no symptoms are shown. Tracing them back to any particular cause has not so far been possible.

After sixty years of research into the effect of active smoking, the best anyone has found are possible correlations. They are no more than possible correlations because they are based on three inherently weak methods of investigation.

First, there are cohort studies. Two groups of people are taken, the only significant difference between them being that one is comprised of smokers and the other is not. These groups are then followed through life, and periodically questioned, and their rates of cancer in old age are compared. This method is unreliable because people often lie about their behaviour, or are not able to keep accurate records of it. Unlike with tuberculosis and malaria, direct observation is replaced by questionnaire research. Also, it is possible for other important variables to be overlooked.

Second, there are case studies. Here, people who already have cancer are asked whether they smoked in the past, and how heavily. This method is still more unreliable. There are the same problems of evidence based on self-reporting, and there is the same possibility that other variables may be ignored. There is the further problem that not everyone asked will agree to answer questions about past lifestyle. The result is a biassed sample.

Third, there are ecologic studies. Here, exposure is estimated to a possible cause of illness, and then matched against incidence of the illness. When plainly stated, this method is obviously defective. No individuals are approached or tested. All that happens is that large statistics are brought together to see what emerges. Imagine this possible case:

In London three people per 100,000 die of lung diseases. In Teheran, 12 people per 100,000 die of lung diseases. In Iran, lead is allowed in petrol, but not in Britain. From this, we conclude that lead in petrol increases deaths from lung disease by up to 400 per cent.

Such a claim should never be made or accepted. It takes no account of any other differences between London and Teheran – the climate, the amount of industry in each city, the age and racial profile of each city, the standards of medical treatment, and so forth. The only advantage of ecologic studies is that, assuming the underlying statistics are themselves grounded in reality, they do reveal correlations.

But, whether strong or weak, correlation is not the same as cause. Correlations may inspire hypotheses about cause, but do not themselves establish cause. Saying, on the basis of any of the three methods, that smoking causes cancer is about as valid as claiming that, because most drivers who crash their cars have eaten bread that day, bread causes motor accidents.

The Danger of Passive Smoking

Now, I have so far discussed the possibility of a link between active smoking and heart disease or lung cancer. While they may not be reliable, it is possible to speak of correlations. Allowing for different rates of absorption, we do know what concentration of substances one cigarette puts into the lungs. We can also discover very roughly how many cigarettes some people smoke or did once smoke. But there is no standard measurement of how much secondary tobacco smoke non-smokers may inhale. There are too many obvious variations – size of room, ventilation, how many cigarettes smoked in the room, how long spent in the room, and so on and so on. As with active smoking, research depends on asking questions of people. A man may be able to say how many cigarettes he smoked each week in 1998. What can he say about the density of the cigarette smoke in the pub where he used to drink?

To be fair, the authors of the Report do quietly admit the worthlessness of their efforts:

There are uncertainties inherent in any assessment of this type. These limitations include uncertainties in: the underlying health data; the exposure data; the choice of study population (particularly the exclusion of potential effects in smokers); the effect sizes and their transferability to other populations and exposure conditions; the burden of active smoking (deduced from the total burden before estimation of the burden from second-hand smoke); and the susceptibility of ex-smokers. Estimation of exposure is one of the weaknesses of this approach because of the gaps in data for specific regions, the age-groups that had to be completed by modelling, and the variations in definitions of exposure across available studies. [p.7 of the Report]

But none of this seems to have found its way into any of the Tobacco-Free Initiative news releases or any of the news reports. The authors were given a brief. Except where children are concerned, claims about primary smoking have usually been flattened by arguments about free choice. It may be that smokers harm themselves, but that is their business. The whole passive smoking scare seems to have been manufactured as a way of showing that smokers harm others. This justifies oppression on the formally liberal grounds of protecting third parties from harm.The authors of this Report have argued their brief as best they could, regardless of their not knowing what is actually meant by passive smoking.

What is to be Done?

Hostile reviews of anti-smoking propaganda often conclude by accusing the body in question of wasting the tax-payers’ money, and calling for reforms to its management. I think this shows a lack of understanding. So far as our various rulers are concerned, the Tobacco-Free Initiative has not been a waste of money. Nor are all the other research projects and campaigns of other bodies. It is a central purpose of these bodies to lie to us about the dangers of smoking. Those who work for them are selected for their ability to conduct biased research and to dress up the resulting propaganda as scientific fact.

There is no point in demanding changes to the present health establishment. Expecting these people to start telling the truth is as naïve as expecting an estate agency to start offering driving lessons.

The only way to stop this flood of propaganda and lifestyle regulation is to shut all the relevant bodies down – to kick everyone employed by them unpensioned into the street, and to burn all the records. It may be that the wholesale research cuts I have in mind would deprive us of some incidentally true and even useful knowledge. But living in a freer world, where truth was more respected, would doubtless compensate for the loss.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 210
6th June 2011 

Should the State Decide What Clothes Children Are Allowed to Wear?
by Sean Gabb

In the past few days, I have made six appearances in the British media. Each one has been to argue against a proposal by the British Government to make an Act of Parliament to control the alleged sexualisation of children. This will involve trying to regulate the type of clothes worn by children, and trying to stop them from watching possibly indecent music videos. I have not been able to upload all the recordings of these media appearances. But you can – or will soon be able to – find them here.

The argument I have been putting is fairly simple, and I have not deviated from it in my various appearances. I argue as follows:

1. It is reasonable to assume that anyone who uses the "protecting the kiddies" argument is really interested in controlling adults. Indeed, one of the organisations most active in pushing for controls is Media Watch UK, which used to be called the National Viewers and Listeners Association, and which, led by Mary Whitehouse, spent most of the 1960s, 70, and 80s arguing for censorship of the media.

2. Ratings on music videos will have no effect, as many of these things are now downloaded from the Internet. As for controls on clothing, children will wear what they want to wear, and it will be hard in practice to do anything about it.

3. How children dress and behave is a matter for their parents to control, not the authorities. Doubtless, there are some rotten parents about. But any law of the kind proposed will not be used against a small minority, but against parents in general. It will be one more weapon in the armoury of social control that has already reduced parents to the status of regulated childminders.

4. Authoritarian conservatives deceive themselves when they think the authorities are fundamentally on their side. The moment you ask for a control to be imposed, you put your trust in people you have never seen, who are not accountable to you, who probably do not share your own values, and who will, sooner or later, use the control you have demanded in ways that you find surprising or shocking. The attempted control of clothing, for example, will certainly be made an excuse for the police to drag little girls out of family picnics to photograph the clothes they are wearing, or to measure their heels to see if they are a quarter of an inch too long. Anyone who dismisses this as an absurd claim has not been reading the newspapers. That is how the authorities behave. Even when it is not an abuse in itself, any law will be abused by them.

As said, I have been six times on the radio in three days, and I expect to be called several times yet to repeat my case.

Now, rather than develop the points made above, I will try to explain what is actually happening. The idea that millions of parents, disgusted by what they see on the television or in the clothing shops, have called out spontaneously and in unison for something to be done is too absurd to discuss. The truth is that there is a continuing dialogue between authoritarian pressure groups and Home Office officials. There are jobs and there is power and status to be had from the sort of controls now proposed. There are these things, or there is simply the joy of telling everyone else how to live. The people at large have no say in the matter. The politicians who go through the motions of arguing for the laws that emerge from these closed discussions are members of two or three parties which are themselves projections of the State. The media people who are supposed to hold the politicians to account simply read out the Home Office and pressure group news releases. They never question the false dichotomy set up in these releases. For example, I have repeatedly been set into a spectrum of opinion that ranges between support for a new Act of Parliament and belief that it is a fine thing to dress your daughters like tarts and let them watch morally corrupt music videos. There is no room for the alternative claim that this is a matter for parents to decide, not the authorities. Short of mass-demonstrations, there is nothing that ordinary people can do except hope that the new law, as it finally emerges, will not be as demented as appears to be promised.

Ian B, who writes on the Libertarian Alliance Blog, has described this process as a secular equivalent of how things are done in most Islamic states. There is the ulema, or general body of religious scholars. These state what ought to be done, and give their reasons. There is then the mutaween, or religious police, who enforce whatever controls are imposed. Our ulema are the authoritarian pressure groups and various moral entrepreneurs. Our mutaween are the normal police and the army of social workers and other bureaucrats. We may be at “war” with radical Islam. But, allowing for differences of nomenclature and clothing, our own system of government is not so very different.

Most people who complain about what is happening have no idea of how to stop it. They usually whine about “political correctness gone mad,” or call on the authorities to learn some common sense. Neither approach touches the root of the problem. What is being done is not some accidental madness, but is part of an overall agenda of social control. The abuses we read about in the newspapers are the intended outcomes. As for common sense, this is not a debate, in which positions can be advanced and rejected in the abstract. I have said there are jobs involved in this agenda of social control. There are tens of thousands of people whose only justification for employment or funding at our expense is the part they play in controlling us. The only answer to the endless advance of moral authoritarianism is to sack every one of these people. In short, we need to demand the following:

1. That all the Home Office and other ministry officials who are now employed to do business with the authoritarian pressure groups should be sacked;

2. That none of our money should be given to any pressure group of whatever kind, and that, where they are registered, these fake charitiesshould be deregistered and made subject to the same oppressive taxation as the rest of us;

3. That all the social workers and other staff employed to control our lives should be sacked.

There is much else that could be done. But this would be the beginning of a solution to the problem of an increasingly despotic and over-extended British State.

I could boast that the Libertarian Alliance has so far been the only organisation to take a stand in the media against the proposed law. But we are a tiny organisation, with minuscule funding. It really is a sign of how bad things are that the only opposition so far made depends on whether I can find the time from all else that I do to go on against an immense and polished campaign for despotism. Where are the other allegedly conservative and libertarian policy institutes in this debate? The answer, I suppose, is that they are too busy arguing, on behalf of their sponsors, for the cracks between the paving stones to be “privatised” and made into an income stream for some corporate interest.

Oh, what a country!

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 215
21st November 2011

Review by Sean Gabb
Time to Say No:
Alternatives to EU Membership

by Ian Milne
Civitas, London, 78pp, £8.00
ISBN: 978-1906837327

In its supporting evidence, this is a very useful book. In its overall purpose, it is quite useless. Its former is the claim that British membership of the European Union does not pass any kind of cost-benefit analysis. Our trade outside the EU has been growing much faster than our trade within. This will continue for at least the next generation, as the main EU countries are demographically in decline and, on the whole, stagnant economically. Indeed, taking into account direct and indirect costs of membership, the gains from being part of the Single Market could be negative. In purely economic terms, Britain is better off out.

The book is worth reading for its short but authoritative stating of these arguments. But I will now explain why it is generally useless. Mr Milne imagines a referendum, in June 2014, on British membership of the EU. He imagines this will go in favour of withdrawal, and that the governing and opposition parties work harmoniously together, and with the EU institutions, for a phased two year withdrawal as required by the Treaty of Lisbon. After this, the country can be free again to govern itself.

The problem with this scenario is that its main assumption is absurd. This country is not ultimately governed from Brussels. We are not victims of foreign control. It is a false belief that our own liberal and therefore benign institutions have been checked by the European Commission, and that leaving the EU will have much the same effect as removing a stone from a horse’s hoof. The truth is that, just as before 1973, this country is governed from London, and by our own ruling class. All that EU membership has achieved is to help make the exercise of power by this ruling class less accountable.

Since the final disappearance, around 1980, of decency and regard for the public good in our politics, every tax and regulation and change in the law had been made for the benefit of some wealthy interest group. The political wing of our ruling class has been acting on behalf of its economic wing. If there have sometimes been disputes between and within these wings, we should not deceive ourselves on the essential unity of state and big business. Now, this is an actual constitution that is best hidden from democratic scrutiny. And so we have had a growth of supranational organisations to hide the reality of how power is exercised. Though by far the most prominent in this country, the European Union is just one among many of these institutions.

Let me explain this abstract point with an actual example. I do not think anyone of importance in Brussels has ever cared what system of measurements we use in this country. Yet, starting in 1995, we suffered a rapid and brutal metrication. By 2000, it could be a criminal offence to sell a pound of bananas. Anyone who complained about this was referred to an EU Directive from 1989 that allegedly tied the hands of British politicians. What seems really to have happened, though, is that the big four supermarkets had found a way to hobble their smaller competitors. Metrication required new measuring instruments. More importantly, it needed an expensive retraining of staff to work at commercial speed in so far unfamiliar measurements. The big supermarkets could spend millions on this without noticing. It was a different impact on small grocers.

If it had needed a Weights and Measures Bill to go through Parliament in the old way, there would have been an outcry, and someone important might have found it worth discussing who was pushing for this. Instead, the law was changed without meaningful reference to Parliament, and everyone who disagreed could rail against the European Union in general, while the actual projectors and beneficiaries of the change could walk away smiling.

And that is how we are governed – in little things and in great. The British Government is practically at liberty to enforce or not enforce any EU law it chooses. It does not comply with a Directive from the 1970s that seems to require identity cards. It does not comply with another Directive that, by implication, seems to forbid it from prohibiting civilian ownership of handguns. If our Government does choose to follow EU law, it is either because that particular law benefits – or has even been procured by – some privileged interest in this country, or because the only interests actually damaged are outside the ruling class.

This is why, regardless of which party is in office, and regardless of what the party leaders may have said in opposition, every British Government since 1973 has been committed to EU membership. And this is why the withdrawal scenario given by Mr Milne is impossible. No referendum will be allowed. If one must be allowed, the question will be slanted – for example, giving a “compromise” option of renegotiation to divide the anti-EU vote – and the mainstream media and whole of big business will argue for staying in. If there is a vote for withdrawal, the referendum will simply be rerun six months later.

The problem with most Eurosceptics is still their assumption that leaving the EU will allow us to solve all our problems. The truth is that the EU is not the cause of our problems: it is merely another symptom of how we have failed as a nation. If we are not to fade away as a distinct nation before the middle of this century, we need a revolution. Undoubtedly, one of the first acts of a revolutionary government must be immediate withdrawal from the EU – just as it must be withdrawal from every other supranational institution. But regarding withdrawal as of supreme importance in itself is the political equivalent of trying to cure chicken pox by popping all the blisters.

Yes, Mr Milne has probably got his sums right. If he really believes our masters will allow us a genuine voice about EU membership, or will listen to that voice, he needs to think again.

And one final point. I do sound in this review as if I am simply copying Richard North. I do greatly admire Dr North. He has said much more than I have about the European Union, and knows things in detail that I at best only dimly perceive. There can be no shame in putting in my own words what he has persuaded me to believe. But I have reached these opinions independently of him. For example, here they are, given ten years ago in much their present form. This is a moderately important point to make. When one reasonably intelligent person is persuaded by another, it adds some weight to a conclusion. When that conclusion is reached independently, the weight is increased. By all means, we could both be wrong. But this final point is worth making.

From Free Life, Issue 16, April 1992
ISSN: 0260 5112

Tracer
Stuart Jackson
Sphere Books 1990 301pp £3.50
(ISBN 0-7474-0603-0)

I bought this novel in Lewisham High Street, remaindered at 50p. This says more about the bad taste of our reading public than Mr Jackson's talent as a writer. He has produced a futuristic thriller that is nearly first rate. I shall be sad if its failure has put him off writing a sequel.

It is the 18th February 1999. The decade has not been a good one for England. It seems to have started well enough. Margaret Thatcher was not stabbed in the back, but went on to win a fourth election victory. The railways were privatised and the social security budget cut to the bone. On finally stepping down, she nominated her - unnamed - Chancellor of the Exchequer to succeed her. Another election victory followed. The Labour Party is hardly mentioned, and then only briefly. It has become a depressed, undirected thing, its name changed several times - most recently to the Social Liberals.

Everything has been spoiled, though, by the human immunodeficiency virus. This has turned out to be very infectious - even between heterosexuals. For as long as it could, the Government suppressed the truth, hoping that its glossy advertising campaigns would keep people happy while someone came up with a vaccine. Eventually, of course, the media revealed what was happening, and the public went mad with fear.

The first violence was spontaneous, as known homosexuals were attacked in the street and burned to death. Then the politicians smelled votes, and began their usual round of competitive bidding to see who was most "in touch with ordinary men and women". The auction was effectively won by The British National Democratic Party, led by James Emmerson, a maverick Tory possessing both wealth and leonine good looks. Advocating firm government in general and a return to white, Christian values in particular, the BNDP gained enough seats in the 1998 general election to hold the balance of power in the Commons. A deal was struck with the Conservatives, and Emmerson entered the Cabinet as Home Secretary.

A year later, the country has become a police state. Most travel is restricted. Foreign travel is prohibited. There is a curfew between midnight and 6am, with a mandatory one year prison sentence for its breach. There is compulsory blood testing for everyone aged between 16 and 50. "Heavies" - a name coined by the gutter press for those found HIV positive - are confined in Special Care Centres. These are run by the Special Health Authority, which has absorbed most of the remaining NHS budget.

The hero, Nick Gorman, works for the SHA as a tracer. His job is to round up the few heavies who escaped the first general swoop. It is a thoroughly nasty job, despised even by the police. But it was the best that Gorman could find on coming out of mental hospital. He works hard, keeps his head down, and is looking forward to the day when he will have saved enough bounty money to retire. Today, however, he is called in to see Mr Smithson, one of his superiors. He is given a photograph of a young man called Jonothan Harris:

"Is he a confirmed heavy or just a suspect?"....

Smithson played with his pen. "Just a suspect at the moment. Someone in the south London office brought in a carrier yesterday and he named Harris as one of his contacts."

I looked at Harris's picture. "So he's gay?"

Smithson nodded. "According to the information south London got out of the heavy, yes."

I could imagine how they'd got the information out of him; the tracers in the south London office were a mean, vicious lot.

"The trouble is, Gorman, that Harris's father is an important man," Smithson continued, "and the powers-that-be don't want any publicity. So we have to pick him and his contacts up in one quick swoop - without leaving any embarrassing loose ends."

"But that's next to impossible," I protested. "I mean, there's no way we can be sure that he doesn't have contacts outside the circle of people we trace."

Smithson sighed. "Don't tell me the things I already know," he said. "Our job is to get him and anybody else he's had contact with. Nobody at the Elephant and Castle is interested in the finer points." He threw his pen onto the desk in disgust.

"His father must be important," I said.[pp. 24-25]

Gorman's search leads him to a squalid flat in Paddington. Harris, he discovers, is the secret lover of Antony Rayleigh, Secretary of State for Health and Chairman of the Special Health Authority, and this is where they meet. Going through his Cabinet papers, Rayleigh has just found a memorandum so upsetting that it brings on a fatal heart attack. All Gorman's hopes of a quiet life are at an end.

There follow several hundred pages of fast and very skillfully plotted action. I will not reveal what happens, but I was pleased to see that the right people come out best at the end. It makes such a change from the drivelling anti- Thatcherism one finds so often in this genre. Apart from this, I enjoyed the sex and violence. Even when not terribly explicit, the former is always useful to keep the reader's interest through a brief lull in the tension. It is also pleasant to know what are the hero's preferences and how good he is in bed.

As for the latter, I especially liked the passage where Gorman tortures Harris with a red hot poker. The boy's character is sufficiently well drawn for one to share his agonised dread. I must also record that Gorman has a brown belt in karate, and is able during the week or so covered in the narrative to put an agreeably large number of people out of action. Let me quote his encounter with the skinheads:

"Here!" The tall, brawny skinhead with the letters BNDP tattooed across his forehead grabbed hold of my arm. He looked about eighteen. "What do you think of this mate?" he asked hoarsely. I could smell the beer on his breath. "I mean, look at these two." He pointed at the two Pakistanis. The girl was clutching her boyfriend's arm, her brown eyes wide with fright and reddened with tears. "Fucking cheek" the skinhead swore, "out on the streets of London like this. This is our fucking country. You fucking niggers," he shouted at them. He turned towards me. "What do you say, mate?"

"Go home," I said to the Pakistani boy, whose eyes were darting at each of the skinheads in turn. "Get a taxi and go straight home. It's not safe to be out on a Saturday night." The young Pakistani tightened his grip round his girlfriend's shoulders but before he could start walking the skinhead who'd accosted me pushed him in the chest.

"You stay where you are, you black bastard," he shouted. "We'll sort you and your piece of black cunt out in a minute. Now, you nigger lover -" he said taking a half pace towards me.

I don't know what the skinhead expected, but what he got was the heel of my palm hitting him upwards on the point of his chin. My forearm was stiff and rigid and I wasn't in the mood to worry about things like not killing him. I felt and heard his jawbone crack, and as he fell backwards onto the pavement I knew that for the next month or two he wouldn't be in any condition to shout foul-mouthed taunts at young Pakistani couples.

"You f..." the oath from the fat skinhead stopped as I hit him below the heart and as he doubled over and his head dropped level with my waist I took a half step past him, pivoted on the balls of my feet into the crouched fighting stance and kicked his legs out from under him.

"You want some too?" I hissed at the third skinhead as his fat friend's face slapped hard against the pavement, but I could see by the look in his eyes that he didn't. He turned and ran off down Baker Street.[pp. 176-77]

This is admirably described, and I defy anyone to question its sentiment. Though somewhat harsh, Gorman is not without redeeming qualities. That middle class people - the couple live in Willesden - should need to go in fear of their underlings is a monstrous inversion of what ought to be. Little wonder that Gorman feels happier with himself after the encounter than he did before.

I said above that the novel is almost first rate. It is marred by a poor sense of period. There is little more tiresome, I agree, than to read something set in the near future and have to wade through long descriptions of levitating track shoes and wristwatch computers with 1037 gigabytes of RAM. Even so, Mr Jackson might have allowed for some technological progress. I find it incredible that people in 1999 could still think it normal to get out of their cars to make a telephone call from a box, and should be made to carry identity cards with nothing more revealing on them than a photograph and a few printed details. It would be rare enough today for Gorman to have a bank deposit book. Certainly, if he had the security forces after him, he would be mad to march into a bank and try making a withdrawal.

More serious are actual inconsistencies. How old, for example, is Charles Motte. Harris is 26, and claims he was Motte's fag at school. Alice Townsend, though, is in her mid-thirties, and is much younger than Motte. Again, Rayleigh is the leading liberal in the Conservative Party, but is responsible for the setting up and running of what can only be described as concentration camps. Yet again, the Conservatives are in coalition with the BNDP. Politics may have changed in seven years; and there is no reason to suppose that Central Office and Downing Street are in total agreement over the coalition. But it seems odd that the Party Chairman should have a voice "which attacked the BDNP almost daily on the TV and radio".

Finally, I was disturbed by Mr Jacksons's complete ignorance of firearms. He gives Gorman a Walther PPK that is automatic and semi-automatic, has a hammer that cocks, and takes eight millimeter bullets. It also has no recoil. A nation in which such blunders can pass uncorrected into print stands little chance - and perhaps deserves none - of avoiding the future imagined here for England.

Nevertheless Tracer is a fine novel, and I have no hesitation in recommending it to my readers. Its remainder price, indeed, makes it worth buying and sending to one's friends and relatives in lieu of Christmas cards.

Anthony Furlong (that is, Sean Gabb)

 From Free Life, Issue 17, January 1993
ISSN: 0260 5112

Raymond Tong
Observing the English
Majority Rights, London, 1991 24pp, £3
(No ISBN)

Some years ago, hoping for a grant from the Greater London Council, I composed An Anthology of Lesbian Verse. The star item, Obloquy by Liz Merdle, went as follows:

Blood
drips between the legs
of the girl
whose father raped her,
dyeing her knickers
red.

And
no man's
law takes
note.

Scream
sisters some primaeval scream
and wonder if
perhaps our mothers
used Orpheus
ill.

I never got my grant, worst luck. What I did gain, howeversince neither this nor any of the 24 other items took more than five minutes to composewas a reinforced contempt for the whole modern movement in poetry.

It is not enough to express one's thoughts in prose with a ragged right margin and to call the result a poem. There is scansion. There is rhyme. There is quantity and pitch, and the various kinds of poetic diction. The rules of English prosody are as elaborate and fixed as the rules of Latin grammar. They may often seem a hindrance to free expression. They must even so be learned and practised until they are second nature. Until then, nothing of value can be produced.

I am sad that Mr Tong does not appear to have appreciated this point, for he is by my standards a most politically correct poet. He is a patriot and a reactionary. He clearly sees the approaching death of England, and has gone into print attacking those who celebrate or contribute to this monstrous event. It is a pity that his book contains scarcely a line of poetry.

Take, for example, his On the Statue of Oliver Cromwell at Westminster. I quote the final half:

It recalls the stubborn patriot firmly
rooted in his fertile fenland acres,
reluctantly accepting his destiny,
becoming the dominant figure of his age.
It recalls a triumph of Englishness: a man
intuitively just and reasonable,
yet relentless in defending liberty
of conscience, parliamentary institutions
and his nation's interests.

Now Cromwell is most certainly to be admiredif not always for the reasons given by Mr Tong. But what atrocious language this is in which to express admiration. "Becoming the dominant figure of his age": this is not poetry. It is neither beautiful nor memorable. Still worse, it is both ugly and platitudinous. It would barely do for the voice-over in a television documentary. Though here, even intoned by Mr Michael Woods, with his usual accompaniment of drum beats and distant wailing, it would not be rescued from evident banality. The same can be said of every other line quoted above, and of almost every other line in the book.

Nevertheless, I do wish Mr Tong every success in selling his work. There is, most regrettably, a market for "modern poetry", and it is probably better that people should buy this than something that is wholly devoid of redeeming features.

Marian Halcombe (Sean Gabb)