by the Editor, January, 2008
When, at the end of September, 2007, I emerged from hospital with health restored but with a heightened consciousness of personal mortality, I decided to embark on the adventure of familiarising myself with Plato's great work, The Republic, with a view to re-publishing it in monthly instalments on my Web site.
As the title implies, The Republic is about political philosophy. Although it was written nearly 2500 years ago, the questions it poses still require answers today. Many generations of people of many nations, religions, professions, and shades of political opinion have down the centuries tried one answer after another, and still the world keeps throwing up new problems or old problems in new guises.
The book begins by inquiring into the nature of Justice. Various attempts at definition emerge in discussion, but each in turn gets lost in a welter of contradictions. Subsequent chapters develop the theme.
It occurred to me that I should draw the greatest personal benefit from my "adventure" if I wrote an essay on the main ideas suggested to me by each chapter. Reflecting upon the first chapter, I came to five conclusions:
This raises the question of democracy, of which certain Western nations think so highly that they endeavour to impose it by force of arms on other nations whose peoples do not always view it in the same light. If democracy does not arise spontaneously within a state, attempting to impose it from without is the very negation of democracy. Those who accept the idea of democracy as being the best available panacea for combating injustice and for carrying on a "war against terrorism" stop short of reflecting that if democracy ever succeeded in eliminating injustice, there might not be any terrorism worth warring against. The recent martyrdom of Benazir Bhutto in the cause of "democracy" is both a condemnation of paying lip service to a word which does not represent actuality and a spur to fresh search for benevolent forms of government dedicated to maximising individual freedom whilst minimising the risk of collateral damage.
During the serialisation of The Republic, I took each chapter in turn and reflected on its implications for what passes for "democracy" in the United Kingdom and on some of the collateral damage it inflicts upon the law-abiding subjects of the Queen. During recent years, many examples of gross injustice on the part of several departments of British "democratic" government have come to light, but the long-suffering electorate has been unable to do anything about them except meet the financial costs of attempts at rectification. The moral costs continue to accumulate beyond measure.
Citizens of other nations may wish to focus their searchlights on the more obscure aspects of their own polities.
In this opening essay of 2008, I draw attention to what I consider to be the greatest evil perpetrated by "democratic" government in Britain and which continues to be overlooked because its victims lack an articulate voice. I refer to the insufferable burden of taxation, particularly by way of Income Tax and National Insurance contributions, imposed upon young people notably those between the ages of fourteen and twenty-eight. Let us call them The Voiceless Put-Upon.
Members of this age group represent the future of the country because it is from among them that the guardians of whatever is best in British traditions, institutions, and attitudes will be drawn two or three decades hence. Members of the Voiceless Put-Upon naturally look forward to breaking free from school, to becoming independent of their parents, to taking responsibility for themselves, and to becoming established as valued contributors to society. Most of them expect to "marry" in one form or another, to set up homes, and to rear families of their own. That is the normal pattern of development we expect for those who, in twenty or thirty years' time, we shall be able to look upon as responsible respectable pillars of society and appropriate rôle models for succeeding generations of young adults. Yet all too many of them now despair of achieving these natural aspirations because of the high cost of housing and the inadequacy of their probable after-tax income. The spectre of financial hardship casts its shadow before it and blights the final years of compulsory schooling. If the Voicless Put-Upon are demoralised, we must anticipate the demoralisation of Britain.
All over the country, there are tell-tale signs of demoralised young people. Litter is everywhere. Unattended property is vandalised. Drug-abuse and binge drinking are rife. Living on meagre "benefits" (another word of dubious accuracy) often seems preferable to sweating for a wage which begins to be eroded by taxation at a level far below that required to afford a decent independent livelihood for a self-respecting young person. As I tried to point out in my Letter to the Prime Minister, young people should not have to begin to support a government until they have first become able to support themselves.
Politicians make great play of "shaving" a penny or two off the "standard rate of income tax", but the standard rate should become relevant only at a level below which all tax-payers already earn enough to care for themselves and their families. What is urgently necessary is to set a level of personal income below which no tax is payable. In an essay on Alleviating Parent Poverty, I tentatively suggested some figures I thought appropriate to conditions in May, 2007. The rate at which the pound has recently been falling with respect to the Euro suggests that significant upward revision will be required whenever this most essential reform is eventually implemented.
What is normally subsumed under the above heading is only a euphemism for "national debt" money which the government has borrowed from its own citizens to pay for wasteful expenditure which even rapacious taxation is insufficient to cover. Chief among such wasteful expenditures are: "benefits" for people who are unwilling or unable to work; operations and medical treatments for people who have no prospect of making a return on the investment; compulsory schooling from which all too many youths of sixteen emerge barely able to read or do arithmetic, let alone write or speak effectively; a huge prison service to accommodate failed citizens unfit to be left on the streets; pensions for people who have taken no thought for prolongation of their own lives in bodies which are no longer economically serviceable. In Plato's Republic, all such expenditures would be deemed the direct responsibility of citizens in their own interest. The responsibility of government would be limited to defence of the realm against its enemies, whether from within or without.
When we turn our attention to defence of the realm, we see further grossly wasteful expenditure apparently with the sole objective of cutting a political dash on the world stage. Is there any other rational explanation for retention of a costly nuclear "deterrent" and maintenance of forces capable of invading foreign countries to impose "democracy" upon them? Would national humanpower not be better employed protecting national insular borders against self-serving infiltrators from the EU, from the former Empire, and from any ill-governed state which emanates "refugees" who are given "asylum" on no better grounds than sentimentality? The material wealth accumulated by generations of thrifty Britons is being squandered on providing benefits for people whose parents and grand-parents have not earned them, and on handouts by way of "Overseas Aid" to dictators who salt most of it away in numbered bank accounts well away from the clutches of the hungry poor in their own countries. The even more important immaterial wealth invested in national traditions, institutions, and ethos is allowed to decay by neglect.
If these and other leakages of national wealth were plugged, there would be no difficulty in keeping members of the Voiceless Put-Upon off drink, drugs, and vandalism, setting them to enthusiastic work, and thus restoring a relatively small and manageable nation to a condition in which all its citizens could take legitimate pride.
Of course, this modest essay will stimulate a chorus of dismay from people who imagine they actually benefit from the so-called "benefits" which will have to be curtailed to "pay for" justice for young adults. I shall welcome this. Few, if any, of the complainants will have a positive effect on the future economic or spiritual health of the nation, and any nation which carries too many uneconomic passengers is bound to founder. Indeed, the greatest peril currently confronting Planet Earth is that it will succumb to the depradations of too many human passengers. All cancers tend to kill their hosts. The moral is obvious, if unpalatable.
I commend the Masonic Degree Lectures found elsewhere in these pages as representing some of the finest attributes typical of former opinion leaders in Britain and America. They, like Plato's Republic, contain many lessons for economic and political life in modern Britain, and provide a sound foundation for a state of manageable size which can be both adequately powerful and genuinely compassionate.
In future essays, I expect I shall have something to say about the ways in which individuals achieve political power and why they tend to waste so much of the revenue they extort from people who lack the will to resist them. This may in turn suggest some ways of overcoming the defects of the political system if "system" is not too polite a word for the actuality. In the meantime, I wish all readers as happy and prosperous a New Year as they can contrive in spite of their governments.