Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sons of Liberty

If one were forced to nominate a candidate for the "great libertarian song" (not 'greatest among a field of mediocrities', but great in an absolute sense), it's hard to beat Frank Turner's 'Sons of Liberty'

I find myself wondering how much Frank Turner and I would disagree on the solution to the problems facing England (and the West). Songs like 'Sons of Liberty' make me think that the distance might be small, but when you've also written songs called 'Thatcher f***ed the kids', part of my initial assessment is probably just projection.

But we assuredly agree on a number of the problems, and on what has been lost.

In terms of stirring opening lines, it's hard to beat these:
Once an honest man could go from sunrise to it's set
Without encountering agents of his state or government.
Quite right. It is nigh on impossible to imagine that today. You can only get something close by living somewhere incredibly rural.

Turner's assessment of how we ended up here has a lot to recommend too:
For centuries our forefathers have fought and often died,
to keep themselves unto themselves, to fight the rising tide.
And that if in the smallest battles we surrender to the state,
We enter in a darkness whence we never shall escape.
The democratic state always expands. This is the government analogue to 'The House Always Wins'. Sometimes, the expansion is jarring and immediate, like the New Deal. More often, it's slow and remorseless,  with every new regulation on food handling, bike helmets, child toy safety, maximum level of nitrate in water coming from the bore on your property, etc. etc. etc. Like a drone attack coming from everywhere, it's hard to fight them all off. The end result, as Turner describes, is that we acquiesce. 

But the song is only just starting to get interesting:
Wat Tyler led the people in 1381,
to meet the king at Smithfield
And issue this demand:
That Winchester's should be
the only law across the land,
The law of old King Alfred's time,
of free and honest men.
Are these not amongst the most remarkable lyrics in a pop/rock song that you've read in a long time?

First of all, to find anybody at all who even knows about the Peasants' Revolt, let alone has a firm opinion about it, let alone someone who is a popular musician... well, let's just say that's a lot of letting alone.

As for the virtues of King Alfred, on that Mr Turner and I agree. Holding technology and social development constant, I would much rather live under the system of government of monarchy under Alfred the Great than  democracy under David Cameron.

Democracy may tend to produce good governance (although even that is debatable), but democracy surely isn't the definition of good governance. If you can get the latter without the former, it's a boatload better than the former without the latter. The problem of monarchy, of course, is that Alfred the Great makes way for Ethelred the Unready.

But if you wanted a pithy summary of everything that's wrong with democracy in the 21st century, it's hard to beat this:
Because the people then they understood what we have since forgot:
That the government will only work for it's own benefit.
Preach it, Mr Turner!

The biggest mistake in politics is thinking that everything will be different if only your guys get elected. The reason to vote for conservative politicians is not that they'll be better administrators. Rather, it's the (probably vain) hope that they'll shrink the government, thus making it harder for you to be maladministered and expropriated.

The song ends with bold, but probably imprudent, advice:
So if ever a man should ask you for your business, or your name,
Tell him to go and f*** himself, tell his friends to do the same.
Because a man who'd trade his liberty for a safe and dreamless sleep
Doesn't deserve the both of them, and neither shall he keep
I presume he means when dealing with figures of authority, not that this advice should be taken to the limit:

Shylock: Hi Rob, how's it going?
Rob: Hi Shylock, pretty good. Shylock, I'd like you to meet my friend Tim.
Tim: Pleased to meet you. Sorry, what was your name again?
Shylock: Bah! Go f*** yourself, Tim. You too, Rob.

Seriously though, to the anarcho-capitalist, defiance of authority is a public good. It's beneficial to the public if the cops don't think they have absolute authority, but it's not necessarily personally advantageous to give Officer O'Rourke the middle finger during a traffic stop when he asks for your license.

Those at the less anarcho- end of the capitalist scale are reluctant to dispense the advice to scorn all vestiges of authority. So instead I'd rather end on the alternative rousing formulation of the chorus:

Stand up sons of liberty and fight for what you own!
Stand up sons of liberty and fight, fight for your homes!

Alas, I fear that Mr Turner knows what I know - there are precious few sons of liberty still in England, and assuredly not enough to defend their collective homes. Think of it instead as a glorious defense of a lost cause, coupled with a tiny but vain hope that maybe all is not completely lost.

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