Ironically Fawkes, far from being the anti-establishment hero he has come to be seen as in the years since his death, was a monarchist who merely wanted to replace the Anglican king with a Catholic queen.
A transcript of his trial with co-conspirators is available here. It’s hard reading for one not accustomed to 17th century English but, in relation to the matter of the conspiracy:
As concerning the second, which is the Matter conspired; it was,
First, To deprive the King of his Crown.
Secondly, To murder the King, the Queen, and the Prince.
Thirdly, To stir Rebellion and Sedition in the Kingdom.
Fourthly, To bring a miserable Destruction amongst the Subjects.
Fifthly, To change, alter, and subvert the Religion here established.
Sixthly, To ruinate the State of the Commonwealth, and to bring in Strangers to invade it.
It’s all far from an answer to the contemporary corporatism which oppresses and impoverishes the majority of us and yet Fawkes inspires those who protest the obvious failures in our present system. Having visited the protest, I believe most protesters are peaceful. I shouldn’t think they are volunteering for the punishment decreed for Fawkes and his conspirators: it included, amongst other things, having their genitals cut off and burnt before them.
The protesters’ use of Fawkes masks is surely far less to do with Fawkes himself and far more to do with the fantasy of revolution against state tyranny that is V for Vendetta. The film, like the protestors, errs in eulogising Fawkes, a traitor and terrorist, but it is not without wisdom.
In particular, in his broadcast speech, V says of the dystopian state of Britain:
How did this happen? Who is to blame? Well certainly there are those who are more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again, truth be told, if you are looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror.
And so we should. Each of us, over several generations and with the best of intentions, has voted for parties which offered doctrines of state power, not freedom.
If the banks and other large corporations oppress us and manufacture injustice (and they do), it is because they enjoy privileges granted by the state, privileges which – like deposit insurance and bank bailouts – were meant to protect us. Corporations do not have coercive power: states are territorial monopolies on the use of force. The privileges granted to corporations and the consequent injustices are the tragic result of attempts by democracies to provide what people want: security and prosperity.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Alexis de Tocqueville set out the kind of despotism democratic nations have to fear:
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
And so the Government worries about wellbeing in a thoroughly technocratic way and brings you Mindspace: Influencing behaviour through public policy. The state today spends over half of GDP: can anyone seriously believe that this is limited government and a free society? Communist China spends less: 2010 GDP was $5.93 trillion and state spending $1.33 trillion – 22% of GDP .
In The Road to Serfdom, Hayek explained that technocratic government would crush Parliamentary democracy, just as it has done, and lead to tyranny through its own failure. In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Schumpeter made the case that the success of capitalism, in the context of democracy, would lead to corporatism and the fostering of values hostile to entrepreneurship. Capitalism would be replaced by some form of socialism through a tendency, which we have seen, of electorates to return parties of social democracy. Schumpeter believed the intellectual trends of society would destroy the capitalist structure.
New Labour’s so-called ‘third way’, and the prevalent economic paradigm in much of ‘Old Europe’, appears to correspond to none of these categories [free market, socialist and ‘Butskellite’ mixed]. Instead, it appears to be a system under which the private sector maintains a nominal legal control over its capital and labour, but the returns on these factors of production are so heavily influenced by tax and regulation that the public sector ends up effectively controlling such returns. This sham form of mixed economy, which needs to be distinguished from the British mixed economy of the 1950s, has traditionally been associated with fascist regimes – for example, the gelenkte Wirtschaft (supple or ‘joined-up’ economy) that Goering implemented in Nazi Germany in 1936.
The awful truth for many who protest our present social system, calling for greater democratic control over more extensive state power in the general interest, is that we already live in the system which is the inevitable, predictable consequence of their demands. It is that statist system which is manufacturing injustice, eroding freedom and impoverishing us today.
In the film, V says,
People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.
Indeed, and when people demand liberty over licentiousness and security, their freedom from state power and the dignity to determine their own destiny within a fixed moral framework, no doubt politicians will arise who will give it to them.
I look forward to the day.
- Where I stand
- Why government spending is hard to cut
- Posts on liberty
- Five videos which explain our predicament
- Detlev Schlichter on the Second Crisis of Socialism
- Relevant reading: book reviews, bookstore