Thursday, 26 September 2013

Popper's theses on gov't (1): state a necessary evil

(1)The state is a necessary evil; its powers are not to be multiplied beyond what is necessary.

It sounds libertarian, but is actually the first of Karl Popper’s "liberal principles" concerning the state in his 1956 essay Public Opinion and Liberal Principles, which is in his 1963 collection Conjectures and Refutations. Since modern democracy owes its existence to the (small-l) liberal melting-pot of Enlightenment thought, I’ve called them his Principles of Government.

Popper’s first principle is a sociological reworking of Occam’s Razor, often rendered as "do not multiply entities unnecessarily". The state has steadily accrued functions since the eve of the First World War when, AJP Taylor noted, "a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of the state, beyond the post office and the policeman…The state intervened to prevent the citizens from eating adulterated foods or contracting certain infectious diseases."

Arguments perennially rage over state roles such as landlord, healthcare provider and surrogate parent. What I think Popper was thinking of with this principle, however, is the criminalisation of dissent by the state, the prime examples of which in our time were provided by fascist governments such as those of Soviet Russia or Nazi Germany.

Until, that is, 2005, when an incident in Britain highlighted the state’s sinister take on dissent when Walter Wolfgang – tellingly, an escapee from the Nazis – was manhandled from the Labour Party Conference and charged under terrorism legislation by police for shouting "rubbish!" when then Home Secretary Jack Straw was speaking.

Now you are apparently a "fascist" if you voice misgivings on certain matters that are dear to the massive unelected establishment surrounding government, to the extent that you can have children taken from you if you support UKIP or the English Defence League, with "anti-fascist" rhetoric spreading to the badger cull and climate issues.

Time, it seems, to robustly prune the state before our prisons hold not criminals but dissidents and our town squares echo to jackboots stamping.

Gerry Dorrian
300 words

This series:

Popper's theses on gov't (1): state a necessary evil

Popper's theses on gov't (2): democratic government can be got rid of without bloodshed

Popper's theses on gov't (3): democracy confers no benefit on citizens

Popper's theses on gov't (4): we're not democrats because the majority is always right

Popper's theses on gov't (5): institutions are insufficient without traditions

Popper's theses on gov't (6): Utopia is an impossibility

Popper's theses on gov't (7) - liberalism is evolutionary, not revolutionary

Resources

Conjectures and Refutations - 300 words

Occam’s Razor - math.ucr.edu

Ken Minogue: resisted the relentless march of state control - Peter Oborne, telegraph.co.uk - contains AJP Taylor quote

[Walter] Wolfgang highlights deeper disquiet - bbc.co.uk

Taking Liberties - channel4.com

UKIP couple have foster children removed from care - bbc.co.uk

Why try to take baby from EDL mother but not from ‘terrorists’? - express.co.uk

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