Published by Daily Mail
If Douglas Carswell had been born 400 years ago, he’d have been burned at the stake. There’s a touch of superstitious wizardry about his unnerving prophecy heralding the end of politics, and a fin de siècle inevitability about his sceptical doom and gloom. His problem is that he’s a Roundhead in a party of Cavaliers; a radical Whig in a sea of resolute Tories. He’s not just an irritating nonconformist; he’s a theo-political heretic. And we all know what happens to them.
But before they meet their grisly end, they tend to preach subversive sermons and write revolutionary tracts in the hope of winning a few souls to salvation. Carswell’s fiery homilies eventually brought down Speaker Martin – the first to be ejected from the Chair of the House of Commons since Sir John Trevor was forced to resign in 1695. Carswell now blogs profusely and incisively about how the oligarchical elite feed like parasites on the people, and how a corrupt and compromised Parliament is incapable of holding the Executive to account. ‘The End of Politics and the birth of iDemocracy’ is an analysis of the murky political morass into which we’ve sunk, and an observation of the emerging technological solutions.
But the book isn’t really about the end of politics, not least because the end of politics would be an acutely political development with profoundly political consequences. Politics, like the poor, will always be with us. Indeed, as long as there are socio-economic divisions and natural differentiations within humanity, there will be a need for the mechanisms and systems of governance, and the formulation of social contracts by which community is ordered. This is and ever will be the stuff of politics. The crisis which Carswell identifies isn’t so much with politics as with democracy: “Throughout the West,” he writes, “legislatures have been sidelined. Public policy is made with little reference to the public.”
His thesis is essentially that ‘big government’ has had its day. This was also David Cameron’s campaign slogan at the last General Election, and his premiership was supposed to usher in an era of devolution, localism, mutualism, civic rejuvenation and social cohesion under the aegis of the ‘Big Society’. We know he didn’t win the election, but there wouldn’t have been much in this manifesto to offend a liberal or even the modern adherents of liberal democracy. Whether you want to call it the ‘Big Society’, ‘One Nation’ or ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, at its heart is the individual advancing fraternally in community: the monolithic institutions of government give way to human responsibility and free association.
Carswell is of the view that the West is in a state of acute crisis – financial and political. As each problem presents itself in Greece, Ireland, Spain, the United States and, indeed, the whole European Union, the elite respond with more bureaucracy and regulation – more government – which has the effect of killing innovation and stifling the very means of wealth creation. He blasts the various grand designs of the ‘socialist blueprint’ – ‘Communist teachings… Catholic teachings’, preferring a natural, organic self-ordering. This may be a utopian vision, but without reformation the West will simply go the way of the great empires of the past. Like Babylon, Greece, Rome, Britain and Russia, the Western Empire is corrupting and bankrupting the people: it is the architect of its own fall.
The pervasive economic pessimism is garnished with an abundance of financial statistics, ratios and percentages – taxation, debt, interest, inflation, deficit, GDP – in the billions and trillions (he combines into zillions) of dollars, pounds, euros and yen. We are persuaded of the incontrovertible fact that the West is stagnant and declining while China, India and Brazil are dynamic and growing. The stats and graphs are interspersed with 1000 years of historic development in the incremental separation of the state’s powers – from Henry I’s Charter of Liberties, through Magna Carta, the Petition of Right, and on to the Glorious Revolution and the Bill of Rights.
And he takes us through the gradual emergence of liberty in the Enlightenment era, through the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, weaving in and out of Europe’s bloody revolutions. He throws in Pigou, Descartes, Keynes, Laski and Hayek. Far from being a Burkean ‘little Englander’, Carswell is global in his grasp of economics and latitudinal in his understanding of political philosophy.
Interestingly, he doesn’t define the West in terms of a geographic entity. And neither is it an ethnic nor a theological one, expressed through Anglo-Saxon culture or some concept of Christendom. By including Australia, New Zealand and Japan along with the USA, Canada and (parts of) Europe, Carswell defines the term philosophically. The West, he says, is where government is dispersed and power devolved to the people: it is the spirit of Magna Carta embodied in the Constitution of the USA. To be ‘truly Western’ is to grasp ‘limited government and the existence of internal constraints on power’.
Contra this is the re-emergence of autocracy and divine right, even in those nations which long ago eschewed top-down, dirigiste decision-making by the few for the many; by the elite oligarchs for the plebeian masses. And so we witness again the inculcation of an ‘official mind’ or public policy dogma which prescribes a prevailing socio-political orthodoxy. The battle is against the vested interests of Officialdom – the politicians, civil servants, regulators, central bankers, business leaders and newspaper editors: “This elite are to our world what priests and princes would have been to the medieval masses; they interpret the world, explain events and at times claim an authority to decide what happens next.”
That quasi-religious theme is a leitmotif of the book. Carswell puts the secret of the West’s success down to the fact that there was never a unified state – ‘Power remained dispersed and diffused.’ Attempts to centralise and coordinate in accordance with a deliberate plan hindered social and economic development. When power was dispersed and constrained, there could be no deliberate design, ‘despite the best efforts of the medieval papacy, the Habsburgs, Napoleon and the Kaiser’.
Thus Copernicus is lauded ‘for challenging the doctrines of the Catholic Church’, and post-Reformation Europe is credited with producing the states and statelets necessary for inspiration and constant competition. Carswell admires the innovation, ingenuity and enterprise of Protestant groups like the Huguenots, and pays tribute to those who put to death a king ‘who, like his peers in Spain and France, believed his right to reign was conferred from on high’. In 1688 the English were effectively saved when they ‘imported a Dutch king who brought with him an appreciation of the fact that the right to reign came from below’. It is an unapologetically Whiggish view of history.
And now we observe a kind of counter-Reformation and anti-Enlightenment being effected by the EU, which is staffed by mandarins ‘possessed of an almost celestial arrogance’. The Treaty of Rome, we are reminded, ‘established a pan-European political authority for perhaps the first time since the collapse on the Roman Imperium in the fourth century’. And so increasingly they micro-engineer all human and social affairs throughout the European Empire.
But rejoice, for into the pervasive gloom and doom irrupts the white light of Information Technology. The digital revolution heralds a counter-counter-reformation, in which the priestly technocrats of the central-directing authority will be displaced once again by the laity, the ordinary citizens armed with the internet, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, iPhones and iPads. It will be democracy by personalised App.
The future is in the fragmented, spontaneous, personalised and individual: libertarian anarchy is about to go mainstream. And I don’t think he’s wrong in this: already we are seeing less reliance on ‘experts’. Blogs such as this one have transformed not only how news travels, but how that truth is conceptualised and imparted. No longer do journalists subscribe to an ‘official’ editorial line; facts are coloured by personal perspectives which can (and does) include the eccentric, offensive and heretical. And such views can now ‘go viral’ on platforms like YouTube, unimpeded by the ‘priesthood of pundits’ who are now deprived of their powers to interpret, filter or censor what they determine to be disagreeable.
“Let the people think they govern and they will be governed,” observed William Penn in 1682. Perhaps Google has ushered in ‘choice and competition, in commerce, ideas and everything’. Or perhaps it’s only an illusion, brilliantly concealed behind our trance-inducing playlists on Spotify. If iPods are the pattern for tomorrow’s public services, we are witnessing the demise of the political party. As George Galloway observed when he crushed Labour in the 2012 Bradford West by-election, ‘our media was social media… Twitter, Facebook and YouTube… at the touch of a button, I can speak to thousands of people… our election campaign was built entirely outside the Westminster bubble’.
Thus is the future of politics, democracy and liberty. Douglas Carswell has decided that it’s better to fight for freedom on the backbenches than to be in the Cabinet as a slave. But his day will come, and Biteback have published his brilliant, compelling manifesto for the future.