Can liberalism be illiberal?


6:06 pm - July 2nd 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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Phillip Blond, in response to Sunder Katwala, says:

My main point is a philosophical and historical one that liberty (which I believe in) is not produced from liberalism. Indeed my intellectual argument is that that pure liberalism or liberalism as first philosophy cannot produce liberty – indeed it produces an anarchic individualism that requires a surveillance state.

Thus liberalism produces the very thing it seeks to avoid: an authoritarian individual and an absolutist state. This is a serious point and to have it charactured as anti-liberal is either an inane misreading or an outright misrepresentation. In fact liberalism is not liberal at all.

Phillip Blond is the driver of the ‘Red Toryism’ project and recently left the think-tank Demos to found his own Progressive Conservatism project. So how would you respond to this view?

I wondered if the Oxford based philosopher Staurt White, who contributes to Next Left and occasionally to LC might like to respond.

He said:

At one level, Phillip Blond simply wants to claim that just because he is critical – scathingly critical – of a philosophy called ‘liberalism’, this does not make him ‘illiberal’ in the usual sense of the word (of supporting all sorts of state restrictions on personal freedom). So far as it goes, this point is fair enough – though, of course, we won’t really be able to make a judgment on whether Red Toryism is or isn’t ‘illiberal’ until we get a bit more detail on what Red Tory policies are.

But more fundamentally, there is the question of whether Blond is persuasive, or even plausible, in his criticism of liberalism as a philosophy. Here, he is on very shaky ground. Blond characterises liberalism, as a philosophical tradition, by attributing to it a very specific first principle or premise: a completely unqualified, raw celebration of individual liberty. If this is indeed the ‘logical primitive’ at the base of liberalism, then liberalism is the anti-social creed Blond asserts, and his argument about liberalism generating authoritarianism would be plausible.

However, few, if any, major liberal thinkers do start from the premise that Blond attributes to them. If pressed to articulate the most elementary idea at the very base of their liberalism, many liberals would not reply simply ‘liberty’, but something like ‘equal liberty’ or ‘liberty for all’. In other words, the commitment to liberty is framed right at the base of the theory by considerations of fairness and respect for others. Consequently, liberalism is not the inherently anti-social creed that Blond asserts.

To elaborate this point, take the case of John Rawls. Rawls does not take ‘liberty’ as such as his conceptual starting point. Rather, he argues that his task is to work out what principles follow from the ideal of society as ‘a fair scheme of cooperation between free and equal persons’. This rather complex idea is his ‘logical primitive’. The commitment to individual liberty is in there, to be sure. But it is going to have to be elaborated in a way that coheres with notions of equality and fair cooperation.

In short, Blond’s criticisms may be valid for a hypothetical ‘liberalism’ of his own imagining. But this liberalism of his imagining has little, if anything, to do with the actual intellectual tradition of liberalism.’

Discuss?

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


brilliant to have this revival of high political theory on the blogs. I may be slightly out of my depth, hence the inane misreading, but I think anti-liberal was a pretty fair description of Blond’s position.

The progressive 14th century argument also seems to have got slightly under PB’s skin, though I am certain I did not misrepresent it.

2. Richard (the original)

Red Toryism sounds a bit like the social Catholicism advocated by Chesterton and Belloc. I believe they were Liberal Party supporters but their politics were not very liberal.

White is right and Blond is incoherent. Is Red Toryism an attempt to make all the mistakes of New Labour? Of shifting to the right (or in this case the left) without becoming any more liberal.

Is Red Toryism an attempt to make all the mistakes of New Labour?

No I have to say I like Red Toryism, and some Labour MPs are right in that if the Tories did actually end up inhabiting that territory then Labour would face serious, permanent electoral difficulties…

I think Blond is essentially walking the same path that “communitarian” critics of liberalism walked. His claim that liberalism is fundamentally atomistic and anti-social looks very similar to the objections Sandel, McIntyre and Waltzer advocated in the past.

From what I understood though, the liberals won that battle, and communitarianism is largely seen as dead within the academy – although communitarianism lives on in ‘real world’ American politics, and is extremely healthy. New Labour was decidedly more communitarian than liberal in many ways, too.

So whilst, intellectually, I suspect Blond will lose the arguments, it doesn’t mean he will lose the ‘real world’ political battles. Which re-inforces Sunny’s point at #4 very well.

Tory tries to be Zizek and Burke; comes out as Lévy and Cameron. Hilarious inanity.

7. Shatterface

‘Blond characterises liberalism, as a philosophical tradition, by attributing to it a very specific first principle or premise: a completely unqualified, raw celebration of individual liberty’

That’s a straw man argument. No ‘liberal’ would celebrate the ‘right’ of one person to exploit another. Blond is confusing ‘rugged individualism’ with the right to self-determination, and the notion that society should serve the interest of individuals, not vise versa.

To be honest, he comes across as a cross between Stalin and a prick.

Blond’s contention actually reminds me somewhat of Brian Barry’s attack on Thatcherism, which he held to be a veneration of individual freedom and state authoritarianism (required in order to prevent the sort of socialist collective action that would otherwise be necessary). In this respect, Barry probably had a point, in that a mainstream Tory notion of freedom is usually the freedom to (try to) get rich but not to change your social world or to engage in communal activity. I suppose Blond might be tapping into this concern.

Almost needless to say, I disagree, but then my conception of liberty is not like that of philosophical liberals like John Rawls but is grounded in an idea of self-ownership and a predictable legal system that allows for freedom of action and personal planning. This conception, I believe, is fairly neutral between wild, eccentric individualism and comprehensive integration into collective and communal activity. It is the sort of liberty that the libertine can get something from, or the hermet, or the church-goer, perhaps even the socialist.

To be honest, he comes across as a cross between Stalin and a prick.

There’s no need for that when there’s a good philosophical discussion going on.

10. Shatterface

Then you should have published THAT then.

11. Matt Munro

I don’t see how you can “change your social world” – which seems the LC consensus of what constitutes “liberal” – without also changing someone elses social world, aginst their consent, which would not accord with sensible conception of “liberal”.

You could use the smoking ban as an example where one persons “freedom” to enjoy a smoke free environment is anothers coercion to endure a smoke free environment. The liberal position would be to give the choice and yet many on LC argued that the smoking ban was liberal/progressive

I also don’t see that the “freedom” to get rich and the freedom to change society are mutually exclusive concepts, if in the course of getting rich you also change the social world. Economic structures tend to trump social ones in the long term, which is why Bill Gates can make more real difference to the deveoping world than a million hand wringing liberals on a blog ever could

12. casaubonian

Despite the shortcomings, what Blond is offering is a semi-coherent way of being anti-statist without being thatcherite. Of rejecting the over-bearing state without having to embrace the global free market.

That, in itself, will be very attractive to a lot of people.

13. Shatterface

Sorry, but how does any argument which contains non sequiters like ‘My intellectual argument is that that pure liberalism or liberalism as first philosophy cannot produce liberty – indeed it produces an anarchic individualism that requires a surveillance state’ and ‘Thus liberalism produces the very thing it seeks to avoid: an authoritarian individual and an absolutist state’ constitute ‘semi-coherent way of being anti-statist without being thatcherite?’

What the fuck does ‘an anarchic individualism that requires a surveillance state’ even mean?

How does this tie in with the ‘authoritarian individual’ of the next paragraph, and what the screaming toss does this have to do with an ‘absolutist state’?

14. casaubonian

Shatterface

It does seem pretty obvious (not that I am saying I agree with it) – that the exteme of individualism, with the abandonment of communitarianism that both tory and socialist theorist argues for pre-war – results in a state that needs to control the excesses of behaviour.

It is a clear statement, just not one that you may agree with. That doesn’t mean that resorting to angry cheap jibes and insults is necessary.

15. Shatterface

‘It does seem pretty obvious (not that I am saying I agree with it) – that the exteme of individualism, with the abandonment of communitarianism that both tory and socialist theorist argues for pre-war – results in a state that needs to control the excesses of behaviour.’

So the more free people are, the more authoritarian the State has to be in order to control them, with the corollary that if only we did as we are told ‘voluntarily’ the State wouldn’t have to exercise it’s power and so we’d all be more free?

Sorry, but the idea that we should limit our freedom to prevent the State from taking it from us is arse. That’s like the bullshit argument that we should moderate our speech so the government doesn’t have to censor us, etc.

Nick@8 is I think correct to say that Red Toryism is a response to Thatcherism. Thatcherism’s political force came from an alliance of economic liberals and social conservatives, but market economics largely proved trumps, and this is a communitarian critique of its social disruptiveness. That explains its points of connection with some left communitarianisms.

In my debate with Blond at the Compass conference, he suggested that Thatcherism was essentially the child of 1960s social liberalism. It seems to me a more effective critique of Thatcherism than of liberalism in general.

As for it winning the battle of politics, Red Toryism right now seems to me much more alive as an intellectual idea looking to contest arguments in the academy than a significant strand of thought within actual British politics.

The latter may well develop in the next year or two. But it is currently extremely vague beyond the level of ideas. It offers quite a profound critique of modernity, without being clear as to what scale of political and social change is being proposed and what form this would take.

We might reasonably ask two things
1. What would be different about Britain after 10 years of Red Toryism? Until something more concrete is on the table, it is difficult to know what to do with a profound critique of modernity which is marching under the banner of a progressive conservatism which has been in large part about coming to terms with liberal and social democratic social changes to British society.

2. Where is the political constituency for Red Toryism? In many ways, the post-Thatcherite right seems to be moving towards a more socially liberal and economically liberal position. Red Toryism challenges both of these developments in its anti-market communitarianism. There might be some points of connection – perhaps around decentralisation – but it is difficult to identify what this means in practice.

– As Stuart says, we really do not know what the practical implications of its communitarianism are, so it is difficult to know how liberals will respond to this anti-liberal liberalism.

But, to end on a positive, Red Toryism is said to have deeply redistributionist tendencies when it comes to wealth and assets. That is the area where I am certainly willing to form alliances with it on ideas, policies and public arguments for change. I am just sceptical as to whether there is any significant centre-right constituency for that as anything more than rhetoric. I would like to be wrong about this one.

17. casaubonian

Shatterface

You miss the point. That is what has happened. What do we do about it?

18. Chris Baldwin

Liberalism has been out of date since the foundation of the Second International. Just saying…

” I don’t see how you can “change your social world” – which seems the LC consensus of what constitutes “liberal” – without also changing someone elses social world, aginst their consent, which would not accord with sensible conception of “liberal”. ”

Matt, I don’t mean coercively; I mean in general. The dark side of Thatcherism was the crackdown on hippies and clubbers whose behaviour did not really threaten anyone. Too many neo-liberals also see unions (as in free associations of workers) as illiberal as well, when in fact they provide valuable services to a free market (just so long as they are not allied with government power). The Tories also started the chip away of traditional legal protections that previous Labour administrations hadn’t touched.

“I also don’t see that the “freedom” to get rich and the freedom to change society are mutually exclusive concepts, if in the course of getting rich you also change the social world.”

Nor do I. But I do see the particular structures that the Tories created (or at least acquiesed in) as being inimicable to the sort of communities that many people want to live in, and might have been able to build had it not been for the oppressive state and corporate structures in place. I suppose what I am suggesting is that liberalism done right has to be more consistently applied and much more accepting of different ways of living and working. I suppose some of my concerns are the same as Blond’s in this respect, I just see the solution as being to get the state even further away from communal values rather than using it to constitute it. I am as opposed to cultural/communal planning as economic planning.

You could use the smoking ban as an example where one persons “freedom” to enjoy a smoke free environment is anothers coercion to endure a smoke free environment. The liberal position would be to give the choice and yet many on LC argued that the smoking ban was liberal/progressive

As is still the case – “many” of us liberals still want that choice – the Carte Blanche ban was never a matter of which liberals wanted, yet there are – to correct you – some who wanted it and agreed with an illiberal government to get it.

The choice in this matter should have rested with landlord and customer, it wasn’t and we have the closures that we see today.

Sorry, but the idea that we should limit our freedom to prevent the State from taking it from us is arse. That’s like the bullshit argument that we should moderate our speech so the government doesn’t have to censor us, etc.

Bingo, Shatter, bingo.

Yes, Richard, he’s channelling Chesterton and Belloc.

22. Denim Justice

Completely O/T Stuart is a great guy, and I enjoy reading his comments here, but for some reason I always recoil when I read this about someone:

the Oxford based philosopher

It works for other things too: the Oxford based author, or the Oxford based journalist. Oxford is a great place to live, and I suppose political writers and journalists need somewhere other than London to live. I don’t know, but it almost seems like an insult to me, as if saying to someone “you are out of touch and in your own world” – obviously it wasn’t meant that way, but does anyone ever get that sense too?

Most def

24. Guy Aitchison

Sunder: “we really do not know what the practical implications of its communitarianism are, so it is difficult to know how liberals will respond to this anti-liberal liberalism.”

I always think that communitarianism sounds jolly nice until we start to think about what it might actually mean in practice. I imagine this to be something like the “small town” America repeatedly invoked by Sarah Palin in her campaign. In other words somewhere quite oppressive and conformist that I’d rather not live. Palin (and her UK equivalent in someone like Anne Widdecombe, I suppose) seems to me to personify the communitarian critique of liberalism.

There is a communitarianism of the left, but I don’t find it convincing. I’d like to know more about what they mean by the “good life” and the “good society” and I’m still not entirely comfortable with the left-wing nationalist project of people like Mark Perryman (who I’d say has a communitarian position). If we are to recover non-market values and the state is to play a role in this, then it must be the political values of participation and civic freedom – republican values. Contrary to the communitarian claim, I doubt that a democratic republican polity would require a set of shared values to function well beyond the political values found in its constitution. Politics then becomes the terrain on which other visions of a good society compete.

So for me the answer to the surveillance state Blonde rightly criticises isn’t a return to the mutual suspicion and policing of the village (oppressive in its own way) it’s to have the confidence of our own democratic values and vigorously defend them when they’re in danger.

Sorry, Guy – but there is really no need to say such a nasty thing about Widdecombe – comparing anyone to Palin is below the belt, sir!

😉

I bet ‘liberalism’ here still involves jackbooted thugs bashing down your door and dragging you off for owning a pistol or smoking ‘The Devil’s Weed’.

27. Denim Justice

That’s right bear! Let’s get rid of the evil jackbooted police, and only the rich can afford private security! Let’s all have guns!

What a paradise the UK would be in under true libertarianism! No more NHS, army, national trains, state schools or roads.

@11

“You could use the smoking ban as an example where one persons “freedom” to enjoy a smoke free environment is anothers coercion to endure a smoke free environment. The liberal position would be to give the choice and yet many on LC argued that the smoking ban was liberal/progressive”

No, because the smoking ban looks like a paradigm case of the application of Mill’s harm principle: that an action be permitted so long as it does not harm others. As smoking in public places harms others, it is not to be permitted. Mill’s On Liberty is a defning text in the liberal tradition – to say that LC-ers are being illiberal by supporting the smoking ban is not justified unless you can mount an argument as to why they are inconsistent to adhere to the harm principle (or something similar).

Sunder wrote:

“But, to end on a positive, Red Toryism is said to have deeply redistributionist tendencies when it comes to wealth and assets. That is the area where I am certainly willing to form alliances with it on ideas, policies and public arguments for change. I am just sceptical as to whether there is any significant centre-right constituency for that as anything more than rhetoric. I would like to be wrong about this one.”

And Guy @ 24 raised some interesting thoughts.

To bring things back to a negative, and focus on something relatively specific, here’s a question for Blond:

“You say that liberalism is fundamentally incoherent because of its prioritisation of liberty. We disagree. But leaving that debate to one side, can we ask what your Red Tory communitarianism would replace it with? Specifically, we want to know what the Red Tory attitude to gays and women is. After all, Red Toryism emphasises tradition and the importance of long-held community bonds (which we might view, in part, as ‘the ways of doing things that have predominated for long periods of time’).

The problem is, traditional communal collectives based on long-held bonds rooted in the status quo, have in this country (and usually even worse in many others) been pretty rubbish for gays and women in particular. So, under Red Toryism, will homosexuality be returned to a status of being a diseased condition to be viewed with scorn and disgust by the ‘community’, and possibly punishable by custodial term? Will women be expected to return to the stove and the mangle, rearing children whilst their menfolk go out to work? More widely, will all the non-hetrosexual non-males (and possibly the non-white hetrosexual males) have to take steps backwards, relative to what they’ve achieved in terms of equality, liberty and opportunity over the last 60 years (which is still incomplete, for sure)?”

“If not, please explain why. If so, then I’m sorry but your Red Toryism leaves a lot to be desired.”

30. Richard (the original)

What Mr Blonde fails to appreciate is that if market liberalism were applied consistently it might well result in the sort of decentralised traditional communities he sympathises with. The current form of global capitalism is propped up by significant state intervention – government subsidy of the transport system, patents, colonial patterns of ownership in the third world etc. Smash away the edifice of state support for big business and the aims of Red Toryism might well be achieved.

Richard (The original)

I don’t think that’s a fair evaluation of Blond’s position.

Blond (from what I can gather) sees unregulated market capitalism as being extremely destructive to the values that conservatives (as opposed to Conservatives) have generally held dear.

A deregulated global capitalism would be fairly antithetical to Red Toryism, I think.

And I think Blond is right to worry about the corrosive effects of unconstrained markets on individual well being. Indeed, I think this is why Sunder and Sunny and others say that there is much to like in Red Toryism, vis-a-vis ordinary Toryism’s variants.

@28 except that there isn’t actually any credible statistical evidence that smoking in public places harms (rather than annoys) others…

“No, because the smoking ban looks like a paradigm case of the application of Mill’s harm principle: that an action be permitted so long as it does not harm others. As smoking in public places harms others, it is not to be permitted. Mill’s On Liberty is a defning text in the liberal tradition – to say that LC-ers are being illiberal by supporting the smoking ban is not justified unless you can mount an argument as to why they are inconsistent to adhere to the harm principle (or something similar).”

Unprotected sex can cause harm to others. Should ‘liberals’ prohibit it? Or do we accept it because it can still be a consensual act?

Second hand smoke causes some limited harm to others. For the most part, it is a bit of a nuisance as it gets on clothes and things. But classical liberals and libertarians are not suggesting that people be forced to associate with smokers, only that private property owners be able to decide what happens on their property. If the smoking ban was truly “liberal”, it could have permitted smoking rooms in offices and pubs that were clearly demarcated from the rest of the building. Or even better, it could have relaxed pub licensing regulations so that we could have more choice of establishments, both smoking and non-smoking.

I believe there is a rational choice theorem somewhere that suggests that when two people of usually wildly differing opinions happen to agree on one point of policy (me, John B), the point is more likely to be correct.

“That’s right bear! Let’s get rid of the evil jackbooted police, and only the rich can afford private security! Let’s all have guns!

What a paradise the UK would be in under true libertarianism! No more NHS, army, national trains, state schools or roads.”

Hey, some of us are gradualists. The police can keep their jackboots if they stop using them on weed smokers and heroin dealers.

Blonde would be well informed to have a look at Chaper II of Locke’s Second Treatise… Liberalism as a basic precept does not propose licentiousness.

http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/locke_liberty_vs_licence.html

37. Stuart White

Denim Justice @ 22: many thanks for this comment. Henceforth, perhaps I could be referred to as Stuart White, the New Marston-based political philosopher?

38. Shatterface

‘As smoking in public places harms others, it is not to be permitted. Mill’s On Liberty is a defning text in the liberal tradition – to say that LC-ers are being illiberal by supporting the smoking ban is not justified unless you can mount an argument as to why they are inconsistent to adhere to the harm principle (or something similar).’

That might make sense in a restaurant or bar also frequented by non-smokers but how can a ‘liberal’ extend the ban to all-smoking bars, or designated smoking rooms in the work-place?

Why the pettiness of banning people smoking outside, in specifically set-aside shelters which are completely open on one side?

Why ridiculous moves to ban smoking in public parks?

Liberalism, (which I characterise as an ordinal ranking of individual rights over group, regional or national concerns) does not produce “anarchic individualism”, therefore (as noted) the argument is entirely based on a strawman. Of course, I wouldn’t agree with a surveillance state (whatever that is) even under anarchic individualism, but Blond’s argument can be negated without going that far.

This seems to be the sort of topic this site should be discussing, rather than the expenses nonsense preferred by the MSM. Unfortunately, as seems inevitable when the word “liberal” is used, it becomes an argument about the value (or lack thereof) of a different concept, libertarianism.

40. Leon Sheffield

Blond has clearly, as has been posted previously, erected a “straw man” in the form of liberty he is wishing to counter. However, we all have a tendancy to do thios in arguments from time to time (eg, when defending the NHS, we compare it to the US system, when most people who wish to reform it, or introduce an insurance based system, seem to propose things more on a Bismarckian basis). However, his points need to be countered; first by breaking them down into what he really means (or we think he means) and what he has actually said; then by arguing for/against that.

Firstly, he says he believes in liberty: I will assume here that he means individual freedoms that we all enjoy (the right to vote, protection under law, private property, opportunity and free expression, etc). So, by and large we’re in agreement there?

Secondly, he states:

“my intellectual argument is that that pure liberalism or liberalism as first philosophy cannot produce liberty – indeed it produces an anarchic individualism that requires a surveillance state.” and “In fact liberalism is not liberal at all.”

It seems to me that he is talking about an extreme form of liberalism, or more accurately libertarianism? However, these comments were in response to Sunder Katwala? As far as I’m aware Mr. Katwala isn’t a libertarian (or if indeed you are; could you please resign from the Fabian Society!), so maybe he actually thinks that the “liberal left” believes in an extreme form of individual liberty? In which case there is no argument to be had, as it is fairly clear that we don’t believe in this super individualistic form of liberalism.

I will though take up some points anyway (in part assuming he is talking to us and in part assuming he is really talking to libertarians/socially liberal Reagan/Thatcherites whist ADDRESSING a member of the “liberal left”). Firstly, is he correct in his reasoning that liberalism does not lead to liberty? The kind of liberty he actually mentions, the “me first” quest for more and more individual liberty regardless of the cost to others, would indeed, in the medium-long term lead to a curtailment of liberty. So, in this regard I agree, as would Rawls, that extreme/absolute personal liberty from the beginning would not lead to a liberal society, but to an authoritarian one, as those with more power to seek their liberty would, of necessity, suppress the liberty of others. This to me is an obvious end result. So, what would our first philosophy be, in order to prevent this, as, even though we can dismiss Blond’s premise as not applicable to the liberal left’s idea of liberty, we can at least do him the service of explaining where we are.

A first principle/first philosophy, in my opinion, has to enhance the ability of all people to enjoy as much individual freedom as is possible without limiting the prospects of others, or indeed future generations, seeking their freedom. Therefore, I feel liberty cannot stand without constraints, but it should only be constrained to the extent that is necessary to protect freedom and liberty for all. More simply, public policy should seek to increase “aggregate freedom”. Which for me includes re-distributive measures, which enhance over-all liberty, without regressively hindering individual liberty. I think that Blond may mean something like this as well. And maybe he was dealing with his own “right flank” as much as the “liberal left”?

41. Leon Sheffield

@32, John B

“@28 except that there isn’t actually any credible statistical evidence that smoking in public places harms (rather than annoys) others…”

However, there is credible evidence that, since the imposition of the smoking ban, the comparative month-by-month figures for admission rates to hospital with “acute coronary syndromes” in non-smokers has decllined. The New England Journal of Medicine is my source here.

There is also pretty compelling evidence that passive smoking is assoiciated with both higher rates of COPD and Lung cancer.

@41 cites would be nice. AFAICT, studies of never-smokers married to smokers have failed to show a significant correlation.

The NEJM piece (here) is interesting but hardly conclusive given the general downward trend in ACS across the UK in recent years. Hopefully the writers are doing a follow-up study based on what happened in England the year after…

43. Richard (the original)

“And I think Blond is right to worry about the corrosive effects of unconstrained markets on individual well being.”

I like to this article quite a bit: http://members.tripod.com/kevin_carson/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/Chapter3.pdf because it’s an excellent summary of how state intervention actually props up the current system of global capitalism with all its inequalities and problems. To remove the various props covered here might well improve individual wellbeing.

44. Shatterface

Blond’s ‘anarchist individualism’ seems to refering to some kind of Neitzschean nihilism or Aliestair Crowley’s ‘to do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ rather than any form of ‘anarchism’ I’m aware of.

How can any philosophy which rejects rulers BY DEFINITION result in ‘authoritarian individuals’ (except as a reaction to it, which is akin to arguing the union movement caused it’s own repression)?

Anarchism isn’t just about refusing to submit to power, it is also about refusing to exercise power; not is ‘individualist’ in the way Blond uses the term as it involves the voluntary association of free individuals, not some dog-eat-dog struggle of one against all.

“That’s right bear! Let’s get rid of the evil jackbooted police, and only the rich can afford private security! Let’s all have guns!”

In our grand parent’s life times people were able to smoke ‘Satan’s weed’ and plink pieces of paper with pistols while at the same time having an effective tool to defend life & property.

All of a sudden it’s ‘liberal’ to give out 5 year jail sentences?

46. Shatterface

I don’t recommend playing with guns if you are stoned.

One thing at a time, guys.

47. Leon Sheffield

@42 John B

1) will provide more cites if required, but start with Hackshaw et al, BMJ 1997 (will get full when I have time if you require) There are also numerous reports by SCOTH and US EPA on the hazardous effects of environmental tobacco smoke. And I’m sure you are aware of literally dozens of epidemiological studies and meta-analyses in favour of a causal link.

2)The study you quote has numerous flaws, not least the fact it missed out on a government grant due to its design and then got funding from the tobacco industry; not a great start. It has been criticised by the Amercian Cancer Society, the BMA (whose journal published the article) and the British Thoracic Society.

Some of their issues are:

“-Participants were enrolled in 1959, when exposure to secondhand smoke was so pervasive that virtually everyone came into contact with it, whether they were married to a smoker or not.
-No information was collected on the sources of secondhand smoke other than spousal smoking.
-No information on smoking habits after 1972 was included in the analysis, even though the observation period continued for another 26 years.
-On average, participants were 52 years old when enrolled on the study. Many spouses who reported smoking in 1959 would have died, quit smoking or ended the marriage during the 38-year follow up, yet their surviving partners are still classified being passive smokers in the analysis.
-Much of the follow up relates to older age groups where the effects of many environmental risk factors become less apparent.”

3)one study is not enough, and very rarely will be, unless of unquestionable design and execution, to shift consensus of the scientific community away from that settled upon after large numbers of epidemiological studies. You need much more than 1 study of dubious “character” to subject people to a potential risk.

4) I don’t like my clothes smelling of smoke all the time! I smell bad enough already!

48. Shatterface

And the reason people can’t smoke in a room set aside for them, or in bars clearly signposted as ‘smoking’, or in a wide open public area such as a park, is…?

49. Leon Sheffield

@48

I have no problem with people smoking in parks, I am not a memeber of the legislative and had no role in he formation of the exact ruling.

“And the reason people can’t smoke in a room set aside for them” Whether you agree or not (and I’m undecided), I’d have thought the reasoning was obvious: say you are friends with 3 smokers, you are the only non-smoker; if there is a “smoking room” and you are out with your friends where are you going to be sitting? The only alternative is to not go out. Or if this room is at work and your boss and colleagues smoke, you can end up in a situation where decisions are made and allegiances formed in the smoking room to your exclusion.

50. Shatterface

“And the reason people can’t smoke in a room set aside for them” Whether you agree or not (and I’m undecided), I’d have thought the reasoning was obvious: say you are friends with 3 smokers, you are the only non-smoker; if there is a “smoking room” and you are out with your friends where are you going to be sitting? The only alternative is to not go out.’

That would be your CHOICE.

You want landlords to be prosecuted and to loose their businesses because your ‘friends’ clearly don’t want you sitting with them?

‘Or if this room is at work and your boss and colleagues smoke, you can end up in a situation where decisions are made and allegiances formed in the smoking room to your exclusion.’

So you’d be for banning workmates from going out drinking together, or talking about football or movies you haven’t seen, or socialising in ANY way that you wouldn’t enjoy?

This is the business of the STATE?

51. Leon Sheffield

@50

No, read what I said, not what you want me to have said. I said it is not my view, but the logic used. Nor was I personalising the situation, but good to see you’re prepared to resort to petty insults there though

@47:

1) the most interesting thing about Enstrom & Cabat isn’t the California study per se, but the strong and valid criticisms it offers towards metastudies like Hackshaw.

2) criticising peer-reviewed work for its funding source isn’t on. But if it were, then I’d point out that most anti-tobacco and anti-booze research is funded by organisations with proven puritan fetishes. “We don’t like your conclusions so we’re taking away your funding” isn’t confined to corporate sponsors.

3) there is no ‘consensus of the scientific community’ on passive smoking risk. There’s a consensus of the nannying-twat community, who regrettably have a significant impact on public policy, but that ain’t the same thing.

4) recognised that this is a joke, but it’s the whole point – because you and many others don’t aesthetically like smoking, you exaggerate the health risks from passive smoking to provide an excuse for a ban that’s really based on aesthetic criteria.

53. Leon Sheffield

“4) recognised that this is a joke, but it’s the whole point – because you and many others don’t asthetically like smoking, you exaggerate the health risks from passive smoking to provide an excuse for a ban that’s really based on aesthetic criteria”

I smoke, cigars only nowadays, but still. It was a joke, you clearly didn’t recognise this, because you would have left it. But the ban isn’t aestheitc at all, that’s a nonsense criticism. Plus I find women nonchalantly smoking insanely attractive, so clearly i’m not aesthetically opposed.

I really had no position on the smoking ban, pre-its implementation, in fact I was leaning to be against it, but friends have given up, or drastically cut back as a result; I view that as positive, don’t you? Clearly personal smoking presents a very cvlear danger to one’s health.

re: 2) yes it is, this remains one of the primary reasons for flaws in ranges of studies, not just tobacco funded. It is very important to be aware of the nature of the funding of research, especially when there is a vested interest. Also government grant was denied pre-study, not post-results. This applies to studies sponsored by ASH as well.

re:1) you are clearly aware that most oif the primary epidemiological studies show a likely causal link between environmental tobacco smoke and respiratory disease.

NB, if you think I was offensive ealier in the post, this is the reason why:

“there is no ‘consensus of the scientific community’ on passive smoking risk. There’s a consensus of the nannying-twat community, who regrettably have a significant impact on public policy, but that ain’t the same thing”

You clearly aren’t interested in the weight of evidence, just anything that supports your worldview and are happy to start hurling insults, just like shatterface, I assume this from “nannying-twat” (I and “nanny-twats” are happy for you to smoke in the privacy of your own home, personally I’m happy for you to smoke more widely than that, but I’m not the poor bugger who has to formulate public health policy).

The interested scientific community is in consensus about the harmful effects of environmental tobacco smoke; what there is not consensus about is the degree of risk and the necessary exposure. (note, this does not mean that every scientist agrees)

This is the most valid line for criticism of the smoking ban: “where is the evidence that “social exposure” to tobacco smoke is linked to respiratory disease?”

“No, read what I said, not what you want me to have said. I said it is not my view, but the logic used. Nor was I personalising the situation, but good to see you’re prepared to resort to petty insults there though”

Uhhh…. where?

“I really had no position on the smoking ban, pre-its implementation, in fact I was leaning to be against it, but friends have given up, or drastically cut back as a result; I view that as positive, don’t you? Clearly personal smoking presents a very cvlear danger to one’s health.”

It is a positive if you think the purpose of government is to protect one’s health from oneself. But it is not a liberal positive, which is our major point.

55. Leon Sheffield

Nick,

The bit where he said “your friends, who clearly don’t want to sit with you.” I consider that a slur.

The smoking ban has no meaningful affect on any important freedoms or liberty, if environmental tobacco smoke is indeed harmful to ohthers, smoking in enclosed public spaces would be a greater infringement on the liberty of others. Smoking itself is not banned, so the state is leaving you to smoke if you wish, but it is attempting to limit the potentially harmful effects of an individual’s decision to smoke on others.

Liberty is not IMO about the “right” to do whatever one pleases, it is about liberty for all and in my first post, the one not about smoking, I tried to state what I felt liberty to be about.

Please note I did not author the ban, I am not responsible for it and personally have no issue with smoking in open spaces or as it stands on dedicated smoking rooms, so long as they are enclosed.

I think it was a rhetorical move but your interpretation is valid.

I think we are more in agreement than not. The purpose of the state (if it has one) from my perspective is to deal with coerced harms to people, not uncoerced ones. Otherwise, as I argued before, there would be no reason in principle why you might not ban unsafe sex. Enclosed public spaces might well require things like smoking regulation, but in the same way it might require things like speech regulations (“no shouting while in a doctor’s waiting room”). That is a liberal argument for specific smoking prohibitions. The problem is the way that this argument gets elided with the public health argument, that we are REALLY interested in getting people to stop smoking altogether as well. And that I don’t think can be a liberal policy goal.

57. Shatterface

‘The smoking ban has no meaningful affect on any important freedoms or liberty…’

(except, obviously, the freedom or liberty to smoke)

‘…if environmental tobacco smoke is indeed harmful to ohthers, smoking in enclosed public spaces would be a greater infringement on the liberty of others.’

An infringement on the liberty of whom, if bars, etc. are clearly signposted as either SMOKING or NON-SMOKING? How can banning clubs set up by and for the sole benefit of smokers be justified in the name of ‘liberty’?

‘Smoking itself is not banned, so the state is leaving you to smoke if you wish, but it is attempting to limit the potentially harmful effects of an individual’s decision to smoke on others.’

At my previous office they shut the smoking room so people had to leave the building to smoke; then they banned smoking outside the building bacause that’s technically the car park and – again for ‘their own good’ – they were not considered adult enough to avoid traffic. Now they have to stand outside the office grounds where – given the nature of the business – they risk verbal abuse or physical assault by members of the public.

So no, it’s not yet been banned, it’s just been made more dangerous.

As to your feelings of ‘offense’ at my joke about your friends not wanting to sit with you, well surprise, surprise: someone who wishes to limit other people’s liberty who doesn’t have a sense of humour.

You could have knocked me down with a feather.

58. Leon Sheffield

shatterface,

1. if you feel the “right” to smoke is an “important” liberty your priorities are skewed to a point at which I have no interest in debating with you.

2. Once again you are treating me as if I had a role in the smoking ban; I have stated at least once that I have no problem with dedicated smoking rooms, nor in smoking in open spaces. I’m sorry your previous workplace prevented you from smoking outside the building, but I didn’t. Was this a legal obligation on their part.

3. My objection was to an ad hominem attack, but I find it uncanny that people who feel that smoking is an important liberty are incapable of making jokes that are funny; it’s not my fault you’re not very funny.

4. Your argument about specific clubs or bars for smokers is an irrelevant one to me. You aren’t presenting non-smokers with a choice here. What if every landlord opted to make his establishment a smoking one? But clearly you don’t care about inflicting damage on the health of others.

This really isn’t an issue of liberty, you object to the smoking ban, fine, but this isn’t about freedom

59. Leon Sheffield

Nick,

I don’t think you can reasonably compare shouting in a public space with exposure to environmental tobacco smoke; do you, really? Unless it is deliberately intimidating or threatening, but sometimes receptionist need a good shouting at!

Clearly getting people to give up smoking is an aim of public health policy and so it should be, but it’s a secondary effect of the smoking ban. I agree that the state shouldn’t use coercive methods to discourage smoking, but that hasn’t been the main point here.

What I find upsetting is the continuing conflation of my argument with that of the government, I am not here to defend a specific state sanctioned position.

“Clearly getting people to give up smoking is an aim of public health policy and so it should be, but it’s a secondary effect of the smoking ban.”

But where is the motivation for this sort of policy coming from, because it doesn’t seem liberal on anything like the Millian harm principle?

“I don’t think you can reasonably compare shouting in a public space with exposure to environmental tobacco smoke; do you, really? Unless it is deliberately intimidating or threatening, but sometimes receptionist need a good shouting at!”

That is exactly the sort of case I had in mind. Shouting is frequently intimidating, but as an activity it is fine given the right context, whether a private setting, a public setting with enough space, or another setting where it is particularly appropriate (like a powerful speech delivered in front of a podium in Trafalgar Square).

62. Matt Munro

“Clearly getting people to give up smoking is an aim of public health policy and so it should be, but it’s a secondary effect of the smoking ban.”

On that measure the ban hasn’t worked. Tobacco consumption has not decreased since the ban, nor has smoking prevalenec in the wider population. The ban actually had nothing to do with public health it’s just the state giving in to the militant health lobby and grabbing another opportunity to control people. Nu labour just didn’t like traditional pubs, they were a perfect storm of political incoorectness: old fashioned, masculine, decadent, right wing, just too off message message basically. The ban was the perfect opportunity to get rid of them, whilst appearing concerned about the nations health

63. Matt Munro

“Now they have to stand outside the office grounds where – given the nature of the business – they risk verbal abuse or physical assault by members of the public.”

Do you work for the tax office then ?

64. Leon Sheffield

matt,

Second post: funny

First post: a little paranoid? Again I am defending my position re the smoking ban, not the state’s, not the exact wording of the ban. I was also stating that getting people to give up smoking is not the primary function of the ban.

Your point about it having nothing to do with public health is entirely baseless, intellectual meandering. Even if it was “giving in to the militant health lobby” (who I’d love to meet btw), what motivates them? Health I presume. And to call it another way to control people by the state, that’s just crackers.

65. Leon Sheffield

Nick,

I agree on shouting, but still don’t think it is equivalent to environmental tobacco smoke; for instance when is the “right context” for smoking, it isn’t making a point, nor is it a porentially positive reaction to circumstances, eg shouting at the incompetent member of staff.

I think it does meet the Milliam harm principles, given the weight of available evidence points to a causal link between environmental tobacco smoke and respiratory/cardiac disease. What we don’t know is a necessary “dosage” and I see no reason why we should delay a public smoking ban until we know that.

66. david brough

You think traditional pubs are “right-wing”, but I bet you wouldn’t come into my local and talk about how good Thatcher was, how the NHS should be dismantled, and how much you admire City banker scum, would you?

Would you fuck. You wouldn’t dare.

67. TrenchFoot

Paul @28 and others evoking the harm principle: “No, because the smoking ban looks like a paradigm case of the application of Mill’s harm principle: that an action be permitted so long as it does not harm others. As smoking in public places harms others, it is not to be permitted. Mill’s On Liberty is a defning text in the liberal tradition – to say that LC-ers are being illiberal by supporting the smoking ban is not justified unless you can mount an argument as to why they are inconsistent to adhere to the harm principle (or something similar).”

Can you honestly name a single activity which could not be banned by the state in a manner consistent with liberal principles? ‘Harm’ is such a fluid concept that anything can be said to cause it, if you’re willing to distort it enough.

Here’s an interesting study on second hand smoking, BTW: http://www.nber.org/papers/w14790.pdf

68. Matt Munro

NO I wouldnt because I belive in the NHS and I;ve only ever voted labour. Wanker.

69. Matt Munro

What I was trying to say if you bothered to read it properly was certain elements of nu labour *harperson, flint et al) didn’t use pubs, didn’t “get” them and didn’t like them, because they perceived them as masculine, and right-wing. Not my descrirtion, theirs

70. Leon Sheffield

@67

not a study I was aware of, why was it published in an economics journal? unfortunately I can’t comment as can only see the abstract, which isn’t exactly extensive. There is a New England Journal of Medicine study, that shows a decline in rates of admission for Acute Coronary Syndromes month-by-month following the smoking ban (greater than the reductions seen in previous years): could be an anomaly, but at first glance provides support for the ban (as it studied non-smokers). It may well be the case that public smoking bans do not impact on the burden of respiratory and cardiac disease in non-smokers, but given that we have plenty of epidemiological evidence for a causal link with known environmental tobacco smoke exposure and cardio-respiratory disease I think, personally, that the case has to be made against the ban, by gaining epidemiological evidence as to whether or not social exposure to ETS is associated with a disease burden.

Matt Munro,

“What I was trying to say if you bothered to read it properly was certain elements of nu labour *harperson, flint et al) didn’t use pubs, didn’t “get” them and didn’t like them, because they perceived them as masculine, and right-wing. Not my descrirtion, theirs”

that is not a basis for accusing them of carrying out a vendetta against traditional pubs via the smoking ban.

“I agree on shouting, but still don’t think it is equivalent to environmental tobacco smoke; for instance when is the “right context” for smoking, it isn’t making a point, nor is it a porentially positive reaction to circumstances, eg shouting at the incompetent member of staff.”

The right context is where it is acceptable to everyone who is reasonably going to be effected by it. So, basically, well ventilated areas with enough space. Or enclosed spaces where everyone is happy with a smokey atmosphere (perhaps because they are smokers themselves). If we are being liberals, then that is how our logic ought to work. Harm and consent are our core concerns.

The funny thing is you seem to drift off this logic quite a bit. For example, sugesting that any particular action should have some sort of potential positive value. But the whole point of liberalism is letting people do what they want so long as they don’t intefere with other people. They shouldn’t have to justify their activities as “positive” to anyone. That is kind of the whole point of a harm principle.

@71: “But the whole point of liberalism is letting people do what they want so long as they don’t intefere with other people.”

Err, no. The position you’re discussing is an outlier of liberalism, known as libertarianism. There are certainly some who label themselves “liberals” and hold the above views, but to characterise the above as the ethos of today’s mainstream liberalism is mistaken. This goes back a the point made in the original post, i.e. the danger of constructing fanciful strawmen.

73. Leon Sheffield

Nick,

“So, basically, well ventilated areas with enough space”

I already agree with that in principle, hence why I think people not being able to smoke in public parks, or outside office buildings is ridiculous.

“Harm and consent are our core concerns.

The funny thing is you seem to drift off this logic quite a bit”

Where do I drift off this logic btw (other than specifically on your shouting example)? I don’t suggest ALL actions need have a positive value, I suggested it is very easy to argue against a Millian Harm stance against shouting in most instances, due to the oft positive effects of shouting. It was a specific point, related to one example, there is no way you can make a reasonable, considered inference on that basis as to my liberal bona fides. I suggest that smokers have to prove a non-negative affect on others of their smoking to be allowed to do it in enclosed public areas given the weight of epidemiological evidence.

I agree with what you say about liberalism, but there IS evidence that ETS exposure is harmful to others (without us knowing the precise exposures or pre-dispositions necessary to effect disease), that is enough for me to feel happy invoking the harm principle ion the case of the smoking ban. I just don’t agree with the scope of it – I am happy to be around smokers outside, or in my own home if they’re round for tea, I would also have no problem with dedicated smoking rooms in places of work.

My definition of liberty is that an individual should have the maximum amount of personal liberty possible, without negatively affecting the liberty of others.

JS Mill’s harm principle does not demand that everything that does harm should be prohibited. It demands that everything that does no harm to others be permitted.

Mill was a utilitarian of a sort, and therefore would, I suggest, have weighed up the marginal harm from something like second hand smoke, with the loss of freedom that would result from restricting an activity such as smoking.

Ok, in that case, as I said before, it looks like we agree. It just looked to me like you were deploying more general public health arguments into the fray as well which I think a liberal principle like yours ought to rule out.

76. Leon Sheffield

Joe @ 74:

I would argue that there was virtually no substantive liberty infringement in not being able to smoke in enclosed public spaces, to be offset against, what in all likelihood is a small increased health risk from exposure to ETS. If you want to be utilitarian, you do have to weigh up the costs to the individual and society of the damage inflicted upon both groups; I would be willing to bet that the cost of not being able to smoke in specific environments (perhaps not as restrictive as the current legislation) was outweighed by even a cancer risk of 1 in a million (without considering the more likely risks to those who already suffer from asthma and those who develop COPD).

I recognise – and this is a big problem with utilitarianism – that it is very difficult to weigh up what are greatly different benefits.

Your presentation: A’s right to smoke in place X, versus B’s freedom from an extra 1 in a million cancer risk – is not quite right.

More accurately: A’s right to smoke in place X, versus B’s right to go to place X without being subject to second hand smoke.

The fact that many B’s were quite happy to to places X when there was smoking suggests that the availability of places X, with smoking, was already a utilitarian good. And this limits the negative utility that should be assigned to the cancer risk. (Many other B’s weren’t, I grant you)


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