From Free Life No. 22, April 1995
ISSN: 0260 5112
by Sean Gabb
Though it is largely about holocaust revisionism, I did promise to review Al Baron's latest book in this issue. That I have not done so, I must inform my readers, is the result far more of idleness than of timidity.
When I became Editor of Free Life, I made an open commitment to the defence of freedom – no matter what reputation this might earn me. For reasons that need no explaining, I do not wish to be smeared as an anti-semite. My time as Editor would be more agreeably passed in the defence of things that I personally enjoy doing, such as drinking and smoking and reading smutty books. Nevertheless, holocaust revisionists are horribly persecuted. Even where not banned from publishing their views, they are often hounded from their jobs, and physically attacked. To stand by indifferent to all this would be to fail in my duty. I will say, therefore, that Mr Baron has written a very interesting book. He states a case for freedom of speech with which I entirely agree; and he summarises a set of historical arguments that I should very much like to see answered, rather than ignored or suppressed.
The problem is that Mr Baron digresses every few pages into a scandalous tale about some rich or well-connected person. Little as I desire it, to be reviled for discussing unpopular opinions is an occupational hazard. Being sued for libel is something else.
Of course, ten minutes with Gatley on Libel and Slander might answer my question – whether to review, and thereby advertise the existence of, a book filled with civil and even criminal libels is itself actionable, though the review does not repeat the libels. The answer, I strongly suspect, is no. But, until I rouse myself to visit a law library, Mr Baron must wait for me to give the title and price of his book, together with details of where to buy it.
A friend of mine tells me that he heard from the wife of a friend of his that a car bomb went off in Fleet Street some time last January. That this event was nowhere reported, he assures me, is not evidence of its non-occurrence but of how effectively our rulers control the media.
Now, what are you, my dear readers, to make of this story? In the first place, its provenance is suspiciously weak. You may believe me, and I am willing to believe that my friend is telling me the truth about what he heard. However, since I do not know his friend or his friend's wife, we cannot judge in what deception or mistake the story may have had its origin.
In the second place, I must confess that I have done nothing to investigate the story. I know Fleet Street very well, and a half hour bus journey from where I am now sitting would take me there. It would be the work of a few minutes to examine the shop fronts for signs of recent damage and repair. Otherwise, I could approach a friend who works in the Royal Courts of Justice, and ask if he heard any loud bangs last January coming from the other side of Temple Bar. Once again, however, I am too idle at the moment to bother myself with making bus journeys to Fleet Street or looking out unfamiliar telephone numbers.
In the third place, my friend cannot fully explain why the story has been concealed. He tells me that the IRA continues to let off bombs now and again, to keep the Government scurrying towards the expulsion of Ulster from the United Kingdom; and that the Government prefers us not to know what is really happening. This sounds likely. On the other hand, there are so many other stories, so much more damning than this, that the Government does not keep out of the media.
Yet, all this being said, I am not inclined to dismiss my friend's story. Nor will I dismiss equally weak stories – about the unlisted, in camera criminal trial recently held at the Old Bailey; about the dropping by the Serious Fraud Office of an insider trading case that turned out to involve a senior member of the Royal Family; about the Cabinet Minister who arrived at a casualty department last month with an Action Man doll stuck in his bottom – it had gone in head first with the arms angled down: he claimed his son had left it in the bath, and that as he slipped, his dressing gown had swung open….
Why do I believe these stories, and many others like them? Partly because it gives me pleasure to believe them; and partly because I live in a country where it is fast becoming reasonable to doubt everything printed in the newspapers beyond the lists of new bankrupts – and to believe just about everything else.
When I was seven, I remember turning up one morning at school with my 9d dinner money. I now suppose that some Minister in the Wilson Government had just announced the day: at the time, I was taken by surprise when my teacher explained to the class that there would soon be 100 pennies to the pound, instead of 240. As she enthused about the simplicity of the new system, I wanted to cry.
Though I had several years – at the time, it seemed an age – to prepare myself for the change, I still hated "Decimal Day" as I had hated nothing else. Never once did I believe the claims that this would be an improvement. I despised the new coins, with their crude symbolism. I mourned the passing of a coinage that combined elegance with solidity, and that gave everyone a history lesson in his loose change. I saved all the old coins that came to me before they were withdrawn; and I still occasionally take them from the jar where I keep them, and brood about the collapse of civilisation.
I have seldom wanted to cry since then, but I have loathed every other advance of metrication. Imagine then my gloom when I read the other day in an old copy of The Daily Telegraph (dated the16th January 1995) of a Metrication Directive that will soon outlaw the advertisement and sale of many goods in imperial measurements.
I have always been sensible enough to wonder at my prejudice against the metric system. I cannot deny its utility as a system of measurement. I am even moved by the harmony of its parts, so lacking in our own. Nor have I found the least inconvenience in adapting to its use in my visits abroad. Perhaps my prejudice as a child may be sufficiently explained by a psychologist. But as an adult, I can justify it on two very good grounds.
First, for all its logical confusion, the imperial system is part of our national identity. It evolved during a thousand years of English history. When I read a book written in – say – the eighteenth century, I find myself in a world very different from my own. Even so, it is a world which I find no difficulty in understanding. Anyone who needs a footnote or a glossary to know the meaning of Half a Crown or seven inches is to some extent deprived of my own familiar understanding. To be cut adrift from the past is always a bad thing. To be cut adrift from the English past is particularly bad. Metrication is not quite so impassable a barrier as reformed spelling or changed place names have been elsewhere. But it is a barrier that will greatly advance the present decline of limited government and the rule of law.
Certainly, Half Crowns and inches are logically separable from Habeas Corpus. But in practice, I do not think they are. For every person who can put an abstract case for liberty, there are ten who regard it as an inheritance from the past. Bring a sudden end to any part of that past, and the other parts will insensibly become less secure.
Second, metrication has not proceeded from any voluntary acceptance of its superiority: it has been imposed on us by authority. That we must now buy petrol by the litre rather than the gallon is a demonstration of the unbounded power of those who rule us. According to my Daily Telegraph article, there is a body called the Consumers in Europe Group (CEG). It welcomes the latest metrication, and dislikes the "concession" of pricing by metric and imperial measure that will last until September. "As long as there is dual pricing", it says,
customers schooled in imperial measurements will take the easy way out and never learn the metric way.
Well, why should we not take the "easy way out"? So long as we find no practical inconvenience in dividing our measurements by twelve or sixteen or whatever, why should we be forced to divide and multiply them by ten? In 1989, many of us were aghast at the attempt in France to abolish the circumflex from spelling; and we have long been contemptuous of a people that can resign the development of its language to a public committee: little wonder French political culture has been so feeble and twisted since the reign of Louis XIV. And yet, for a generation now, we have been accepting a similar – if for the moment a smaller – resignation.
Time and inflation have made it impracticable to suggest a return to the old currency. But I have never accepted the 1974 county changes; and so long as I remain its Editor, Free Life will take no cognizance of the metric system, save as may be required for the discussion of European Union laws. I only regret that I must publish on A3 paper.
My readers may laugh – but all this is just another part of my (probably futile) stand in defence of freedom.
© 1995 – 2017, seangabb.
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