Sunday, July 03, 2005

What I Write: Rather Than Why

I write about, mostly, the abuse of power in a variety of forms. I'm pretty sure I'll never run out. But that isn't enough. You look at the title of this blog, and the strapline, and the link as to what the original Ranters were after. But I don't think it's clear enough what I'm on about.

Ranters, as the link I gave as a definition says, were one of the world of wild-arsed left/Protestant sects/movements that appeared from the ranks of the New Model Army in the civil war. Many similar groups, as well as the Ranters, took part in the famous Putney debates between the leadership around Fairfax and Cromwell and the Agitators, the tribunes of the rank and file. Putney, of course, is now a terribly well-off district of west London. My train races through every morning on my way to work. Bizarrely, the traces of the indigenous revolutionary tradition are all in the bourgeois neatnesses of west London, too: Gerrard Winstanley is buried in Barnes cemetery, his Digger republic existed on St. Georges Hill in Weybridge, the debates took place up the line in Putney. Ranters, though, are distinguished by two factors I care about: the first is that they refused the notion of sin and espoused a sort of primitive existentialism. Now, I don't even support that much. But I'm fairly sure that there's a huge leap from the religious idea of sin to the rationalist idea of crime, from enchaining mystery to John Stuart Mill. And you need to start somewhere. The other is pathetic: they came from villages that are as familiar to me as forks. I recommend, by the way, The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas in the English Revolution, by Christopher Hill, and Religion and the Decline of Magic, by Keith Thomas, if you want to understand this stuff.

Winstanley, a Lankie anyway, was a believer in total public ownership of the means of production. I'm not. I am, though, strongly convinced that capitalism can, and does, misallocate as badly as government can, when it gets the chance - Viktor Bout is exhibit A, by the way - and that therefore we need a taut sail between the two. Right-wing people always love to talk about personal responsibility. We should ask them why they do not want much more direct democracy. I believe that the lowest level of democratic organisation is good. I also believe, dragging the scale up, that organisation is good. To be less nonsensical, functional integration between nations works.

I am not a pacifist. War exists. There are two basic routes to world peace that people suggest, and there are good reasons against them. The first is disarmament. That's good, but presumably all states could maintain a police force of some sort for their own needs. And, in the absence of armies, that would be capable of starting a war. The other is the World State. A world state, though, would carry the risk of becoming a world tyranny. You cannot flee world tyranny. And would it be possible to resist it? The Thing could bring its Papua New Guinea Regiment to crush rebels in Wharfedale. Best, then, to accept the reality of states and violence, and to practice the avoidance of war.

It's deeply important for the left to realise that we have to understand warfare, and talk sensibly about military matters, and accept that the soldiers are a big chunk of the working class, that with the destruction of industry they are one of the last big working-class, tradesman employers. That is a main purpose of this blog. I am a civilian, but I think if you read back through the Iraq posts you'll find I've been right more often than not.

What is it that I want? I aim only for a society that offers a (and this is a phrase George Orwell made a cliche) decent way of life to all. That shouldn't be so difficult. Yes, the market mechanism is a fine allocating system for goods and services. It's also shown it can be a terrible one for certain incentives and a great incentive to cheat. Government planning has the same faults. We need diversity of ownership on the supply side - much more important than nationalisation, which is suited only to certain natural monopolies.

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