Refuting The Anti-Corn Laws League and the Ron Paul Appeal
I don’t think I could count the times I’ve had to debate, discuss, refute or otherwise demonstrate why pro-voting arguments either largely miss the point at best or are just flat out wrong most of the time. I guess if someone was somehow keeping a count of this this blog post would be another one to chalk up.
Let me be clear however, I do think the work that the Anti-Corn Law League did was definitely a good thing. Much in the same way as I think Ron Paul is not without his good things insofar as education is concerned and some of his effects of helping radicalize more and more people towards anarchism in the long run. There’s decent enough evidence I suppose to say that Ron Paul himself could even be a voluntaryist so I can’t see him necessarily opposing this particular outcome. Though either way I’m highly skeptical to down right cynical about many of the voluntaryists approaches to human relations and think they need to be much more thickin about their analysis of power and social relations in general…and that’s just to start with.
But this isn’t to be a critique of voluntaryism as a political philosophy (plus Alex Strekal has already done that here and here just to name two in particular) but more of a response to this video by G. Stolyarov II. Namely, the idea that the “victory” (if one wises to term it as such) of the Anti-Corn Laws League shows that Ron Paul could be successful in the election.
First I shall endeavour to do a critique of this suggestion and the phenomenon that was the Anti-Corn Law League in a general sense. I do not claim to be an expert by any standard and I am simply going on what I’ve learned from this paper and my current anti-voting position and other tidbits of info I already had on it.
Second I shall criticize the suggestion made in the video that the two phenomenons of Paul and the Anti-Corn Laws League’s “victory” are similar.
Lastly I shall conclude by summarizing other reasons why I I still do not support voting even if I granted that Mr. Stolyarov’s arguments were valid. I shall do this by making some statements about the act of voting itself.
If you wish to see more of my thoughts on voting I encourage you to check out this post and this post on the matter. You can also look at my “Practicality and Morality” series on voting on my Youtube channel.
I of course welcome a response from Mr. Stolyarov.
Refuting The Anti-Corn Laws League
First, I’ve chosen a written format because, while I’m responding to Mr. Stolyarov’s video in the larger sense in the more specific case here I’m responding to his own written words on this. Another factor of that is that Monday is the day that I do blog posts on my blog and I thought this was a good subject to put on here.
With that out of the way, what are the corn laws? Mr. Stolyarov says,
“Simply put, the Corn Laws prohibited any foreign corn from being imported into Britain unless domestic corn cost more than80 shillings per quarter-hundredweight.”
“The Corn Laws were in force for a total of 31 years, from 1815 to 1846. The laws were put into operation via the Importation Act of 1815, after the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in a precipitous drop in the price of “corn” – verbal shorthand at the time for any grain, but particularly wheat. Prices for grain had been exorbitantly high during the wars, and the lawwere intended not “to save a tottering sector of the economy, but rather to preserve the abnormally high profits of the Napoleonic war-years, and to safeguard farmers from theLessons from consequences of their wartime euphoria, when farms had changed hands at the fanciest prices, loans and mortgages had been accepted on impossible terms.”
So I for one clearly oppose it as much as I oppose any other law that government passes and especially insofar as these laws as Cobden pointed out,
“…the condition of the great body of her Majesty’s labouring subjects had deteriorated wofully within the last ten years, and more especially so within the three years last past; and furthermore, that in proportion as the price of the food of the people had increased, just so had their comforts been diminished.”
As well as how it benefited the ruling class as Cobden said,
“I am sure there is not an hon. Member in the House who would dare to bring in a bill to levy an income-tax on all grades of society upon a scale similar to this, and yet I maintain that the bread-tax is such a tax, and is levied not for the purposes of the State, but for the benefit of the richest portion of the community.”
To add to this he remarked that,
“…the land-valuers and auctioneers—who represent the landlord in his very worst aspect; they are persons that have an interest in this system which causes perpetual change and a constant rise in rent; for the more changes there are, or the more failures there are, the more valuing there is for the valuer, and the more selling there is for the auctioneer.”
So clearly Cobden had some great critiques of the law and you can check out all of the arguments he made against the arguments others made against repealing it and his arguments for repealing it, etc. That wasn’t my main subject of study here so I only read a little over a handful of the ones for the repeal that he responded to and a few of those that were against. I am more interested in the strategies that Mr. Stolyarov has outlined that Cobden and company (a good name for sitcom perhaps?) used against the corn laws.
Similarities and Dissimilarities
First off it’s just flat out humorous to me that Mr. Stolyarov has not seen that some of the tactics Cobden and Bright (two of the main people of the Anti-Corn Law League) are in direct opposition to what Ron Paul is doing as a matter of tactics. For example the very act of making this organization in of itself is doing something entirely different than what Ron Paul is doing and trying to do. While Ron Paul wants himself on the tip top of a 21st century, modern, state-capitalist empire Bright and Cobden instead just wanted to reverse one single policy from the Britain empire in the mid to late 19th century on the basis of mass public support. Which sounds more practical to you?
Now, this isn’t to diminish what they did, but it is an important point to make regardless because it highlights some of the inherent differences between these two phenomenons of Ron Paul’s quest for becoming a candidate and subsequently a president and the much more modest goal of trying to repeal one law. Ron Paul doesn’t want to just repeal one law but he wants to repeal an entire system of domination, coercion, class warfare, and more by limiting the governments interference in our lives. How does Mr. Stolyarov think that these two cases are in the least analogous even apart from the strategies used that he brings up?
I know Mr. Stolyarov’s basic point was that political action can amass great amounts of political change for the better sometimes but even if this is the case…so what? That was then (the 19th century in Britain) and this is now (the 21st century in the US) to compare the two is to ignore the differences in culture, historical development, politics, economic development and so on. In other words, to compare these two is not even the same as apples and oranges. We’re talking about apples and pears man…apples and pears!
…Ok joking aside what I mean by that is that while it’s a similar context (their both fruits aka their both political actions seemingly aimed towards a better world) the strategies employed and the similarity of any sort really end there (the time period of Paul’s campaign as opposed to the League’s time, the cultural and historical differences and different political systems and so on). The shape, the weight, the color, the texture are all different. The cores are similar enough and they have the stem but…oh you get the point!
Anyways I want to continue to hammer this point? Why? Well why am I making this blog post to begin with?
It is my belief that Mr. Stolyarov and others are heralding the example of the Anti-Corn Law League’s victory as some indicator that somehow Ron Paul can also achieve political greatness. And that if I can knock that argument down one more major pro-voting argument will follow as well. Hopefully this will also mean more people embrace the ideas of counter-economics as welll.
The last part isn’t especially necessary but would just be a nice addition to what I’d like to see come out of posts like this. But with this in mind how do Bright and Cobden differ besides that only insofar as strategies are concerned?
Dissimilarities in Strategies
First off one of the big strategies Cobden and Bright had was refusal to affiliate with parties wait…what’s that? Why would they do something like that? Well as Mr. Stolyarov points out himself,
“Cobden steadfastly refused to get bogged down in partisan politics. His objective was the repeal of the Corn Laws, and he would not compromise to ingratiate himself with either of the major political parties of his day: “I call myself neither Whig nor Tory; I am a free-trader, and such I shall always be ready to avow myself” This is not a party move, to serve any existing political organisation; we care nothing for political parties. As they at present stand, there is very little indeed to choose between the When Cobden could have support from members of either party, he welcomed it, but he refused to give his allegiance to any political group.”
Well it looks to me like Mr. Stolyarov sees “partisan politics” as a hamper to political opportunities in a political system if I’m reading him correctly and so does Cobden for that matter. So what’s the difference for Paul exactly? Isn’t Paul not only acting within “partisan politics” constantly as a senator but even more so as someone who’s running for president? What exaclty is the difference?
The only difference I see here is one that doesn’t bode well for Mr. Stolyarov’s argument. That difference being one of magnitude. If Cobden thought it was pointless at this much smaller level to do such a thing and Mr. Stolyarov agrees (again, if I am reading both correctly) why would it entail victory at a much larger and complex level that Ron Paul is acting within?
Further, I wonder what Cobden himself would think of Ron Paul. I bet he’d quip something like, “Ah, the gentlemen is wise beyond much imagination in his deas but what he has in ideas he lacks in practice!”
Of course I’m just historically speculating and poking fun at all of this but I do think there’s a serious point to be made about this as well. Such that I think even Cobden would realize this.
All of that aside, let’s move on to the next one that seems particularly against what Paul is doing with his presidential campaign which is how Cobden and company went about their approach. It wasn’t with mere calls for reform or anything like that it was a call for immediate repeal of the Corn Laws.
As Cobden himself said,
“If it is unreasonable to ‘totally and immediately’ abolish the duty on corn, why has [the Conservatives’] own Prime Minister and Government ‘totally and immediately’ abolished the protection on wool? We find encouragement and good argument in favour of our principles by every step that is taken, even by our professed opponents.”
But if Ron Paul is actually a voluntaryist (at least in the long term and there’s some evidence for that as I’ve pointed out above) then it seems like he cannot do such a thing within the current culture, political or economic structure that exists. Especially insofar as he wants to join it and try to change it from within. Now to be fair, it’s not necessarily his fault that this is the case but it certainly changes the sort of message involved. After all Ron Paul is the one who is calling for reoformism here and not the repeal of government in its totality. But again, to be fair to Paul and I think this point is valid either way irrespective of Paul, the US (and more generally the world) is not ready for anarchism and we need to therefore make transitional or revolutionarily gradual steps towards it in my opinion. Politics doesn’t fit that bill for me.
Education is a great way to do it and as Kevin Carson has pointed out there’s even some legitimacy to be said for a political program for anarchists. But actually becoming president over others and instituting laws or tearing down old ones seems practically and morally problematic to me. I just want to sketch out a few things on the practical and moral side though as I’ve already done an entire series on my moral and practical objections to voting on Youtube already as I mentioned above it will just be a sketching.
A little bit of sidetracking
One of the things that comes to my mind (and that convinced SecularNumanist on Youtube against voting in our debate) is that the structure of the political and economic system are inherently against him (Ron Paul). There are structural problems or obstacles that are too big from within the system for Paul to have much of a chance. This is especially the case because paradoxically while Ron Paul doesn’t have corporate support and this mote likely means he’s probably more likely to want to do change it means he probably won’t be able to. Why? Well the corporations are a big factor in donations to political campaigns (especially due to the court ruling about it).
Also, Ron Paul, last I checked doesn’t care much for lobbyists or many of the major powers inside the political and economic systems of the day. And if it’s correct that large amounts of wealth is still concentrated in a small number of hands up top then I doubt his grassroots attempt will do much.
The moral problem I want to bring up is whether electing people, asking them to implement certain policies (or wishing them to) unilaterally on a populace is moral on libertarian grounds. After all, how can you have laws without enforcement especially insofar as a state is concerned?
For example: If Ron Paul enacts border control he or his armed guards for the border are going to have to enforce this belief by killing some “troublesome” brown people who want to cross the borders. How would Ron Paul deal with this obvious contradiction if aggression is so wrong in his view except in defense?
That’s just one big problem I see, in general how is it right to do this? If we take down laws from presidential action or approve new ones that are better are we not just forcing our opinions on the majority of people? Even if our opinions are right does this give us the right to force it on others through the political process?
I wonder if Mr. Stolyarov would deny that the political process in general relies on the gun because even if he identifies as a minarchists even some minarchists still recognize that or recognize it to a point. But then they just try to reason that it’s “necessary force” to keep society together. It’s outside of the scope of this blog post to criticize this notion but take notice that I don’t find this very compelling.
Moving on to the next strategy after getting slightly side tracked…
Dissimilarities in Strategies Take Two
I’ve got two other strategies in mind that only further prove that Ron Paul’s campaign is not really reflective of much with the League. The next one up was their “mass enrollment” strategy which Mr. Stolyarov says that,
“Cobden endeavored to enroll hundreds of thousands of members of the general public in his free-trade movement. He believed that it was vital to have the support of the public on his side before anything would be done in Parliament to repeal the Corn Laws: “I have always found, on looking back to the history of past events, that public opinion, when well expressed, could carry its end in this country, even when the constituency was not one-hundredth part so favourable to the expression of public opinion as it is now.”’
So how exactly do I see Ron Paul differing? Well for one thing have presidential candidates ever done a candidacy based on whether the general public thinks they should or not? Now I know this begs the questions what the “general public” may mean to some. But all I mean by that is the majority of people want them to run or not. I think clearly if they actually polled people beforehand a lot of politicians may not or may run instead of running just on the basis of having a “team” together and a bunch of money ready. I doubt what Ron Paul has done to prepare for his candidacy is much different.
Now if this is just for educational purposes then I don’t have as many problems with it (though I still have some but I’ll reserve them for another time perhaps) but clearly Paul and many of his supporters want him to go a lot farther than that.
Moving on, apparently “focus” (or as he titles it “a single object”) was the important thing for Cobden, Bright and others…so what sort of focus does Paul have? Well sure he has some main focuses for sure…but that’s the problem he has many different main focuses and unlike the League (no not the justice league…) he also has to do them on a much larger scale than what the League did. I’ve mentioned the problems of scale a few times now I think so I don’t think I’ll say much more about this.
I think that’ll really do it for my arguments against the dissimilarities between the League and Paul’s campaign. I think I’ve made plenty of arguments for Mr. Stolyarov to deal with if he chooses to. Moving on I’d like to discuss some last remarks against voting in general.
Conclusion: Cementing my Anti-Voting Position
By cementing I do not mean I’m dogmatically tied to these ideas in such a way that I’d never move (after all cement isn’t impervious to damage anyways) but I’d like to make it more clear why I oppose voting as useful action for libertarians.
A few reasons off the top of my head:
1. It seems against the spirit of libertarianism itself if you’re going to beg politicians for political change instead of directly doing it yourself. And what would doing it yourself be called? It’s called direct action.
2. I’m unsure of the morals of enforcing your opinions or selected candidate’s ideas on people. Not only do they have to deal with the calculation problem insofar as the social relations they’ve gotten themselves into are on a massive scale (which is a practical problem) but then they have to resolve these issues and then do it in some sort of moral way. I’m unsure how a libertarian of any stripe can consent to the current system doling out their own ideas and unilaterally forcing them on a populace through the threat of violence.
3. Lastly, the act of voting itself has never in its history done much to progress liberty. Giving women the vote did not seem to do much and as Emma Goldman suggested in fact,
“Woman’s demand for equal suffrage is based largely on the contention that woman must have the equal right in all affairs of society. No one could, possibly, refute that, if suffrage were a right. Alas, for the ignorance of the human mind, which can see a right in an imposition. Or is it not the most brutal imposition for one set of people to make laws that another set is coerced by force to obey? Yet woman clamors for that “golden opportunity” that has wrought so much misery in the world, and robbed man of his integrity and self-reliance; an imposition which has thoroughly corrupted the people, and made them absolute prey in the hands of unscrupulous politicians.”
And of course as Emma Goldman famously said, “If voting did anything they’d make it illegal.” “they” of course referring to the ruling class. After all why would the ruling class want the ruled class to start ruling themselves instead of each other through some supposedly “democratic” state?
To wrap things up, I’m not going to respond to Mr. Stolyarov’s other arguments as I’ve addressed many of them before from other people in my posts and Youtube videos. There’s also many things he addresses Stefan on (specifically criticizing RP of being a Christian, ostracizing non-anarchists, etc.) that don’t necessarily apply to me either. And so that doesn’t leave a lot for me to deal with anyways so I’ll stop here.
As a final note though I encourage Mr. Stolyarov to respond to me if he finds the time but either way I’m just glad I could review his evidence and still make good counter-arguments in my mind.