Friday, February 06, 2015
Meet Britain's strange state-loving "libertarian"
Shami Chakrabarti’s "On Liberty" is a libel on John Stuart Mill
Given the eponymous nod to John Stuart Mill, Shami Chakrabarti’s On Liberty promises to be a tribute to individual freedom. It promises to be a stirring defence of liberty written by someone who, as the head of the 80-year-old civil-rights campaign group Liberty, has been knee-deep, holding back the tide of aggressive, illiberal legislation. It promises to be an unbowed affirmation of freedom at a time when it has rarely been more devalued.
But the reality of Chakrabarti’s On Liberty, an awkward amalgam of the semi-personal and the mainstream political, never even comes close to realising the promise. Instead, it turns out to be a desperately dull encomium to the human-rights industry, a verveless trudge down Good Cause lane, with every battle against New Labour anti-terror legislation, each scuffle with the ASBO-happy authorities, eventually turning into a victory for the indispensable European Court of Human Rights. Hooray for Strasbourg! If John Stuart Mill wasn’t so liberal (and dead), he’d be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for calumny.
But first, the prose. Whatever vital impulse there was behind writing this book must have expired long before it reached the page. There’s no life here, no spirit. It as if Chakrabarti has barely thought about the words she’s using. Even when she’s describing the frustrations of her ‘university-educated’ mum, held back ‘by a lack of affordable childcare’, she sounds as if she’s dashing off a policy document, not portraying a loved one. Admittedly, she does prove capable of a geekish whimsy at points - ‘You might say that I am a Jedi Knight who began on the dark side of the force’, she writes of her career beginnings at the UK Home Office. But On Liberty is mainly composed of dead phrases and, worse still, argument-averse legalese. ‘This type of administrative detention by the UK secretary of state’, she writes of the internment of foreign terror suspects at Belmarsh, ‘is not incompatible with the right to personal liberty and the right against arbitrary detention under Article 5 of the Human Rights Convention, as long as it is necessary to the stated purpose, provided for in legislation and subject to scrutiny and appeals in the appropriate courts and tribunals’. Magical stuff.
And why is the writing so deadening? Why is it so determinedly dull? Because it’s written by someone who has never really questioned herself, who has never really subjected her beliefs to criticism. For Chakrabarti, human-rights discourse is just insuperably, indubitably correct. There’s no more to be said - or thought. And that right there is the source of Chakrabarti’s dullness. This is automatic writing from the ‘deep slumber of decided opinion’, the product, as Mill would put it, of someone who has never really wrestled with the meaning of the words she lets fall on to the page, like so many droplets of bien pensant thought. Her writing is the result of dogma, not reflection.
The dogma - human-rights law - infuses Chakrabarti’s thinking: she is not really a libertarian at all; she’s a legalist. Her commitment is to the letter of the law, not to the spirit of freedom. Freedom, in this context, doesn’t really figure in its true sense, as something that an individual lives and experiences, both in their interior and exterior worlds, in their judgements and in their actions. Moral autonomy is anathema to a legalist such as Chakrabarti. Freedom, or liberty, to the extent that it features at all, does so as a legal entity, couched in the qualifications and caveats of law, a thing to be administered and regulated by the great and the good (people, as it turns out, like Chakrabarti, who proudly sat on the panel of the Leveson Inquiry into the press and press freedom).
On Liberty is a testament to Chakrabarti’s unquestioned legalism. She presents her book as a personal and political journey, but there’s very little travelling. She begins On Liberty by describing how, as a law student, she discovered what DH Lawrence would have called her ‘bright book of life’. It wasn’t Paradise Lost or Middlemarch, though; it was the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), the ‘essential text’, as she puts it. And she ends On Liberty on the same legalistic ticket, by publishing in full another of her favourite tracts: the Human Rights Act (1998). Between the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act, there is not so much a journey as a self-reinforcing circle.
Chakrabarti’s inspirations are equally revealing. She is not spurred on by the great heroes of the struggles for liberty, such as Thomas Paine or Sylvia Pankhurst. Rather, she is all too content to be awed by lawyers and barristers, QCs and judges. There’s ‘dear friend and lifelong race-equality champion, Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC’; and there’s ‘Helena Kennedy (Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws), who has been one of my role models for pretty much as long as I can remember’. The only non-law figure who comes close to entering Chakrabarti’s circle of greatness is Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered black teenager Stephen Lawrence.
From Chakrabarti’s legalism, her fetishising of the law and its agents, flows the two other notable aspects of her thinking: her implicit veneration of the state and her diminution of democracy.
That Chakrabarti thinks quite a bit of the state may come as a surprise to those who tend to think of liberty as being demarcated precisely by the limiting of state power. But human-rights advocates are not really concerned with liberty in the sense that the Founding Fathers or John Stuart Mill were. Rather, under the aegis of human-rights discourse, liberty, as a legal entity, becomes something that needs to be administered and regulated by the benevolent state. Freedom is not to be found apart from the state; it is to be requested through it [Very Hegelian].
As spiked’s Jon Holbrook has noted, the UK’s former director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, was well aware of the difference between classical ideas of liberty and human-rights thinking. Holbrook quotes these revealing comments by Starmer: ‘It is often thought that civil liberties and human rights are two sides of the same coin. They are not. Civil liberties protect the individual from the state by restricting the circumstances in which the state can interfere in the affairs of its citizens. Human rights, in contrast, not only protect the individual from the state but also oblige the state, in carefully defined circumstances, to take positive steps to protect its citizens. This distinction is important. The Human Rights Act entrenches positive obligations in our law.’
Chakrabarti clearly sees this as right and true. The state needs to ensure that individuals are ‘protected from each other’, she writes. ‘This is a positive responsibility on the state to protect the rights and freedoms of the people and not merely a negative restraint… it is about the protection of the individual from overweening bureaucracy and the vulnerable from the physically and materially powerful in society.’
What’s striking here is Chakrabarti’s perspective. Mill in On Liberty was concerned with the flourishing of the individual: that is, with providing the conditions - the freedom to think, express, and plan one’s life - that would make this possible, that would allow genius to bloom. His perspective was that of the self-developing individual, his vision uplifting. Chakrabarti, by contrast, is concerned with protecting the individual: that is, with providing the conditions - the laws, the limits, and the restrictions - that would make this possible, that would allow the vulnerable to survive. Her perspective is that of the paternalist state, her vision downbeat. Little wonder that, in the final chapter, she makes the case for human rights in terms not of classical Greece or the age of Goethe, as Mill does for liberty, but in terms of the Holocaust and the Gulag. She recounts a friend’s father’s argument with approval: ‘My wife was in a death camp and I was in Siberia. No one is going to tell me we don’t need human-rights laws.’
Given Chakrabarti’s belief that human rights are necessary to protect people from each other, which is a far cry from Mill’s belief that liberty is necessary to allow people to flourish, it is hardly surprising that she has so little faith in democracy. After all, if you conceive of the demos as a collection of vulnerable, helpless individuals, who need the state, backed by human-rights law, to keep them from each other’s throats, it’s unlikely you’ll be terribly favourable towards the idea of letting the people decide their own future. This is particularly clear in her attack on elected politicians criticising the power of unelected judges. Politicians clearly believe that ‘the only legitimate power is their own’, she moans. ‘I sometimes wonder whether this new, arrogant and increasingly detached political class has thought at all deeply about what democracy means and what it needs to survive’, she writes, before concluding: ‘Rules in the form of human rights and the rule of the law prevent majority rule descending into that of the mob and today’s democracy from becoming tomorrow’s dictatorship.’
And that, folks, is Shami Chakrabarti, the director of one of Britain’s most prominent civil-rights campaign groups, the go-to guy for a defence of, well, liberty. With freedom fighters like this at the barricades, who needs dictators?
Jewish communities seek security as anti-Semitic attacks in Britain hit record high
London: The Jewish community endured the highest level of anti-Semitic incidents ever recorded in Britain in 2014 amid a climate of hostility fuelled by Israel's military action in Gaza.
New figures show the number of reported issues, ranging from verbal abuse to extreme physical violence and the desecration of graves, more than doubled.
The figures, published by the Community Security Trust, came as anxiety within the Jewish community was said to have risen even higher in the wake of the Islamist terrorist killings in Paris.
The Trust, which provides security advice to synagogues and schools, said last month it was receiving an "unprecedented" volume of calls from Jews fearing a similar attack in Britain.
Overall, the Trust, which has recorded anti-Jewish hate crime for 30 years, logged 1168 anti-Semitic incidents in 2014 - a 118 per cent increase on the previous year.
The report cites dozens of cases of abuse fuelled by a combination of Islamist, far-Right racist and extreme anti-Israeli prejudice.
It includes numerous examples of threats and insults, children abused on the street and jokes about murdering Jews.
Swastikas and the term "Jewish slag" were daubed on gravestones at a cemetery in Manchester, England. Elsewhere a man was battered with a glass and a baseball bat and subjected to anti-Semitic insults.
Attacks rose during the summer, around the time of the Israeli action in Gaza, but the report notes that incidents were already above average in the early half of the year.
Theresa May, the British Home Secretary, condemned the hostility towards Jewish people as an attack on Britain as a whole.
Republicans hate women, children, puppies, rainbows and especially Science™. If you didn’t believe that, witness the latest kerfuffle over vaccines. Once the province of doctors' offices and parenting blogs, vaccines have come front and center in the political arena over the last few days, and the Leftmedia are using it to bash the GOP.
Two likely 2016 presidential contenders, Chris Christie and Rand Paul, answered questions about vaccines in the wake of the recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland. They both might have been better off with a “no comment” than to wade into such a “gotcha” issue for a Leftmedia hungry to discredit anti-Science™ Republicans.
Though Christie extolled the benefits of vaccination, he said there must be “some measure of choice” in the matter. Paul argued that most vaccines should be voluntary: “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children. And it is an issue of freedom and public health.” That thought came after he relayed scary but discredited anecdotes involving “many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines.”
The Republicans' comments followed Barack Obama’s pontification on the issue: “You should get your kids vaccinated. The science is, you know, pretty indisputable. We’ve looked at this again and again. There is every reason to get vaccinated, but there aren’t reasons to not.”
That’s a shade different from Obama’s stance in 2008, however, when he said, “We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. … The science is right now inconclusive, but we have to research it.” Perhaps he settled the science during his first term.
Likewise in 2008, Hillary Clinton and John McCain pointed to vaccines as a possible cause of autism. McCain said there was “strong evidence” of a connection, and Clinton promised to “make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.”
As for “investments,” Obama’s latest budget cuts $50 million from a vaccine program for the underinsured. That’s inconvenient.
So now that we’ve established a bipartisan problem, we’ll make a few observations.
Science is rarely “settled” – that’s the point of scientific inquiry. As we often note, climate change is likely happening, but the science is not at all clear on its cause or extent or what we can do about it. Whether eating eggs or too much salt is bad for you has been the subject of years of rigorous debate. Vaccines were created thanks to research and study – and there’s no reason to end such work, or to deny that we don’t know everything.
That said, fears about vaccine risks are often overblown. The Wall Street Journal reports, “The claims about vaccine risks go back to a 1998 article in The Lancet in which British doctor Andrew Wakefield claimed to have found a link between the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. But the real menace was Mr. Wakefield, whose findings were proven to be fraudulent and who was on the payroll of the plaintiffs bar. The Lancet retracted the article in 2010, and Mr. Wakefield lost his medical license.”
And it’s indisputable that vaccines have been remarkably effective in virtually eradicating communicable diseases that once claimed numerous lives. Measles was declared eliminated in 2000, but international travelers brought it here again, where it spread at Disneyland among the unvaccinated.
Let’s be clear that some children cannot receive vaccinations due to illnesses such as leukemia, and there are indeed perfectly legitimate reasons to forgo vaccinations or to space them out. Parents should research the issue and be as knowledgeable as possible. That includes finding a trustworthy doctor.
Those who opt out of vaccines benefit from what’s known as herd immunity. In other words, as long as about 90% of people are vaccinated, the “more-enlightened” few may choose to avoid doing so and suffer little consequence. But there is a mathematical limit to this gamble, and it’s often upper-class liberals who are rolling the dice.
Wealthy schools in Los Angeles now feature vaccination rates as low as South Sudan. As a result, there’s a resurgence of measles and whooping cough. The California counties surrounding San Francisco (which went for Obama by 84% in 2012) also have especially low vaccination rates.
But remember, it’s Republicans who are anti-Science™.
Some on the Right do oppose government mandates for vaccinations, but the vast majority of conservatives still vaccinate (and all 50 states have varying degrees of mandate). Most of the time it’s not actually an issue of personal liberty; it’s one of public health and individual responsibility. As 19th century physician Oliver Wendell Holmes put it, “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” The choice to refuse vaccination – when rooted in vain conceit rather than medical reality – endangers others.
Vaccinations are a very good idea, and, because many people lack common sense, the use of state power through carrots and sticks is not excessive. It was Thomas Jefferson writing in the Declaration of Independence who said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”
Finally, the issue for both sides of the political aisle boils down to trust in government. Whether it’s global warming, NSA surveillance, IRS audits, ObamaCare or vaccinations, many Americans just don’t think government officials are playing it straight or telling the truth. Most of the time, this distrust is founded in legitimately bad experience. ObamaCare in particular can be blamed for the rising mistrust in medicine.
Unless and until that trust is restored, a growing number of people will eschew good health choices, and, as a result, we may be looking toward a future full of diseases we only thought we had beaten.
Oregon Bakers Found Guilty
Make them bake cake! That’s the verdict of an administrative judge in the case of Oregon bakers Aaron and Melissa Klein. The couple, who became the brave face of America’s religious liberty clash, were informed [Monday] by the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries that in the battle over marriage, their First Amendment rights no longer counted.
In the first of what will almost certainly be several rulings, the Kleins were found guilty of violating state law for politely declining an order for a same-sex “wedding” cake. As part of his 52-page order, Judge Alan McCullough claims that “requiring them to provide a wedding cake for Complainants does not constitute compelled speech.” Aaron Klein disagrees. “First Amendment, Constitution. Freedom of religion. I’m free to exercise my religion however I see fit. If I’m told to make a wedding cake for a same-sex marriage, I feel that I’m violating my beliefs. I don’t think I should have to do that.”
Unfortunately for the parents of five, wedding vendors like them may soon have no choice. In the free market, the courts no longer seem to recognize the right to believe what you want. Owners of small businesses like Sweet Cakes by Melissa, Arlene’s Flowers, Simply Elegant Wedding Planning, Hands On Originals, and others are seen as nothing more than tools of the government to think and believe as the state sees fit. If they refuse, as Aaron and Melissa have done, Oregon is threatening to bring the full weight of the government to bear.
A hearing on March 10 will decide exactly how much the Kleins' courage will cost them. As much as $200,000 could be at stake for a family who’s already been forced to close their shop and scrape together the money they need to make up for that lost income. Anna Harmon, one of the Kleins' three attorneys, said that although the judge tossed out every claim but one, it’s still a tough loss. “Americans should not have to choose between adhering to their faith or closing their business, but that is what this decision means… The judge ruled wrongly that the Kleins' right not to design and create a work of art celebrating an event which violates the tenets of their religion is not protected by the Oregon or Federal Constitutions. This is a dangerous result for religious liberty and rights of conscience in Oregon…”
If only it were just Oregon! But, as Betty and Richard Odgaard just found out, the fierce tide of intolerance is at the door of every Christian business owner in America. Last Wednesday, the long-time owners of a church-building-turned-bistro made the sad announcement that they would no longer be hosting weddings at the scenic site after settling a same-sex “wedding” dispute. The Odgaards, a Mennonite family, were hauled before a civil rights commission for deciding not to host a homosexual ceremony because of their religious beliefs. So the government gave them an ultimatum: conform or pay crippling fines.
It was a difficult decision for the family, which hosted as many as 15 to 20 weddings a year at the Görtz Haus. But ultimately, something had to give – and that something wasn’t going to be their beliefs. “Our faith hasn’t changed,” Betty told reporters.
Where are all of those writers who insist that conservatives “can’t even convincingly demonstrate that anyone is hurt in any way by a gay wedding?” Still denying reality no doubt.
Pain Killer? Ellmers Feels the Heat of Bill Betrayal
It isn’t exactly flip-flop season in Washington – unless you’re Rep. Renee Ellmers ®. The North Carolina politician stunned everyone two weeks ago when the self-styled “pro-lifer” pulled the rug out from under a bill she supported in 2013 just hours before it was set to pass the House. The move, which threw cold water on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, shocked and frustrated a city full of activists, who were looking forward to celebrating the first pro-life milestone of the 114th Congress on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
Ellmers, who, two years earlier, had voted for the same language on the 20-week abortion ban, suddenly objected to a reporting requirement that, if excluded, could render the bill moot. Hundreds of students in town for the March for Life packed the hallways in protest outside of Ellmers’s office, while other groups didn’t mince words about her betrayal.
Now, after two weeks on the hot seat, the congresswoman seems to be cracking under the pressure and is lashing out at the very pro-lifers who helped elect her. In a new op-ed, she desperately tries to justify her actions before ripping into the pro-life groups who held her accountable. “I am appalled by the abhorrent and childish behaviors from some of the leaders of the outside groups,” she writes.
Obviously, Ellmers, in her blind rage, has it all backwards. What’s abhorrent is the abortion of innocent unborn children who feel the excruciating pain of their execution at five months – a barbaric practice this bill would have helped prevent. Instead, the legislation was shelved for now, the victim of internal politics that have no place sidetracking a common sense, life-saving bill. The pro-life movement is right to be upset.
The Gospel According to Jon
Jon Stewart is a comedian, but the justification of his ideology is the real joke. On [Monday’s] “Daily Show,” the host tore into Governor Mike Huckabee for holding the mainstream view on marriage. In what he hoped would be a “gotcha” monologue, Stewart only managed to show his ignorance about the Bible he insisted on citing.
Paraphrasing what the Governor said on CNN, Stewart said, “I just can’t ‘change’ with the ‘times’ if it means deviating from ‘biblical law.’” He went on to set up a false comparison between God’s definition of marriage and other Old Testament laws that changed under the new covenant. “It’s why Huckabee never mixes fabric in his clothes or trims his beard or sleeps with another man’s slave. It would be wrong.” Then, in an expletive-filled rant, he exclaimed, “it makes no… sense!”
Well, it may not make sense to someone who’s making a convenient argument from out-of-context Bible verses, but it’s perfectly clear to those of us who take a comprehensive view of God’s Word as inerrant truth. If it’s New Testament evidence Stewart is looking for, then look no further than Matthew’s Gospel for Jesus’s affirmation of marriage and human sexuality.
“‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’” (Matthew 19:4-5, NIV) The Bible is replete with references of God’s design for marriage in the New Testament.
But Stewart and others should take note that the Bible doesn’t condemn without the offer of grace. After the Apostle Paul rebukes the practice of homosexuality (along with a host of other sins) in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, he follows it up with the hope of redemption. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (ESV).
Much to the Left’s annoyance, the whole of Scripture affirms the natural definition of marriage and sexuality from the very beginning – to the very end. And that same Scripture shows us that with Christ, this world is not the end for us.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.