After a bitter conflict between King and Parliament, the power of royalty in the person of Charles II was restored. In defeat, Magna Carta was not forgotten. One of the leaders of Parliament, Henry Vane, was beheaded. On the scaffold, he tried to read a speech denouncing the sentence as a violation of Magna Carta, but was drowned out by trumpets to ensure that such scandalous words would not be heard by the cheering crowds. His major crime had been to draft a petition calling the people \”the original of all just power\” in civil society – not the King, not even God.

Well, no. The major crime was treason, being that of helping to execute Poppa, Charles I. It\’s the sort of thing that happens to people who, in the long term, lose a civil war.

The significance of the companion charter, the Charter of the Forest, is no less profound and perhaps even more pertinent today – as explored in depth by Peter Linebaugh in his richly documented and stimulating history of Magna Carta and its later trajectory. The Charter of the Forest demanded protection of the commons from external power. The commons were the source of sustenance for the general population: their fuel, their food, their construction materials, whatever was essential for life. The forest was no primitive wilderness. It had been carefully developed over generations, maintained in common, its riches available to all, and preserved for future generations – practices found today primarily in traditional societies that are under threat throughout the world.

The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to privatisation.

Snigger, The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to nationalisation. It was \”The King\’s Forest\” see? His private (ie, the State\’s) hunting grounds. The Charter of the Forest detailed what the common people could do even on the State\’s land.

And this is only a tiny sample of struggles underway over much of the world, some involving extreme violence, as in the Eastern Congo, where millions have been killed in recent years to ensure an ample supply of minerals for cell phones and other uses, and of course ample profits.

What? The Congolese civil war was caused by the lure of the profits from tantalite?

Err, no, I think not. Exacerbated, sure, possibly part financed agreed. But caused by? No, really, no.

The rise of capitalist practice and morality brought with it a radical revision of how the commons are treated, and also of how they are conceived. The prevailing view today is captured by Garrett Hardin\’s influential argument that \”freedom in a commons brings ruin to us all,\” the famous \”tragedy of the commons\”: what is not owned will be destroyed by individual avarice.

Proper Chomskbollocks that. Hardin absolutely did not say that the commons must be privatised. All he did say was that if (IF!) demand was higher than the capacity of the commons to supply then access must be managed. He was very clear that it could be governmental (\”socialist\” in his own words) control of access or private. Which worked better (not which was more moral, but which worked better) depended upon the resource itself.

The grim forecasts of the tragedy of the commons are not without challenge. The late Elinor Olstrom won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2009 for her work showing the superiority of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins.

More entire Chomskbollocks. Her work was about when does such voluntary cooperation among users lead to adequate (superior if you wish) management of a commons and more importantly, when does it not. A rough rule of thumb is that when the number of users rises above the low single digit thousands then we\’re back in Hardin territory. Government or private property.

That was 150 years ago – in England earlier. Huge efforts have been devoted since to inculcating the New Spirit of the Age. Major industries are devoted to the task: public relations, advertising, marketing generally, all of which add up to a very large component of the Gross Domestic Product.

3% is a very large component of GDP now, is it?

Both recognised that the public must be \”put in its place,\” marginalised and controlled – for their own interests of course. They were too \”stupid and ignorant\” to be allowed to run their own affairs. That task was to be left to the \”intelligent minority,\” who must be protected from \”the trampling and the roar of [the] bewildered herd,\” the \”ignorant and meddlesome outsiders\” – the \”rascal multitude\” as they were termed by their 17th century predecessors. The role of the general population was to be \”spectators,\” not \”participants in action,\” in a properly functioning democratic society.

Yes, I know he\’s quoting the ad men there but it does sound very much like the revolutionary vanguard of socialism, doesn\’t it? Or even the Guardian comments page. You peons should do as we enlightened say.

Could someone tell me why this grammarian is so respected as a political theorist?

14 thoughts on “Chomskbollocks”

  1. “It had been carefully developed over generations, maintained in common, its riches available to all,”

    Subsets of those riches were available only to those people, limited in number, who held explicit rights in common. Turbary, estover, pannage, etc.

  2. Tim, I don’t think he is respected as a political theorist by anyone who knows their onions. Dimwit grolies, perhaps, student trots at SOAS but of course. But my sense is that he’s long since been rumbled by the better educated or/and those with an ounce of common sense. Bit of a waste of a brilliant mind, really. I read Steven Pinker’s book the Language Instinct many years ago, which delved into some of Chomsky’s work on linguistic development, which was patently the work of a very brilliant intellect. Shame he went bonkers.

  3. Henry Vane was a radical republican in the Rump, of course he was involved in bumping off Charlie.

    He was so republican that he pissed off even Cromwell: “Sir Henry Vane, Sir Henry Vane, the Lord deliver me from Sir Henry Vane!”

  4. Academics dont think the division of labour applies to them,.

    So being good at one thing, Great at in this case makes him in his eyes great at everything.

    This is why you need philosophy to try and put a lot of stuff together and make some sense of it.
    Sadly sidelined in out modern world.

  5. ” The Charter of the Forest imposed limits to nationalisation. It was “The King’s Forest” see? His private (ie, the State’s) hunting grounds. The Charter of the Forest detailed what the common people could do even on the State’s land.”

    Nope. The Crown had assigned deer-hunting rights to itself, but otherwise the land continued in private ownership and was used by those with property rights i.e. land owners and commoners.

  6. Oxonymous: Yes, Vane opposed Cromwell’s military coup in 1653. I’d say that’s to his credit.

    The indictment at Vane’s trial charged among other things that Vane “did compass and imagine the death of our said Sovereign Lord the Kind”, but the prosecution presented no evidence at all that Vane had been involved in Charles’ execution, because there was none. Instead, it showed that Vane had been involved in “the open levying of war”. You can read about the trial here.

  7. “Could someone tell me why this grammarian is so respected as a political theorist?”

    Chomsky is a rationalist and immune to empirical evidence, both in his day job and his hobby.

  8. I think PaulB is right; Sir Henry Vane wasn’t involved in the trial or execution of Charles I.

    He wasn’t one of the Commissioners, or one of the signatories on the death warrant. Although he was a member of the Rump Parliament and the Council of State, he kept out of the way during the trial and execution.

    He and General John Lambert were the only two people, other than the Regicides, to be specifically entirely excluded from the post-Restoration amnesty; see clause 41 here:

    Lambert got off relatively lightly, being exiled to Guernsey, which leaves Vane as the only non-Regicide to be executed in the Restoration. I’m not quite sure what he did to get that treatment.

  9. Dennis The Peasant

    Noam’s politics have never really been taken seriously by anyone other than the Very Paranoid Left. Most U.S. lefties see him more as light entertainment.

    As far as his linguists, well, more than half of academia is waiting for him to die just for the pleasure of tearing apart every crap theory he ever put forth.

  10. Back in the day they made me study Chomsky for my math degree. Chomsky generated simple math, all deeply in the shadow of Turing and Goedel.

    The only reason he is put forward is that he is a well spoken lefty. Until you listen carefully, then he’s just plain nuts.

  11. The man did successfully sue the government in the US to overturn section 1021 of the NDAA. Ast a time whe personal freedom is being clawed away from US citizens at an unprecedented rate, we will take heros where we can find them, flawed though they might be.

  12. It’s a bit of a balance, isn’t it, between “putting the public in their place” and allowing the ravening masses to decide every smidgin of policy.

    My own field has a similar dilemma. In Milton Babbit’s article “Who cares if you listen”, he argues that your average Joe is not capable of understanding serious music so we shouldn’t be worried if he doesn’t want to listen to it. He equates it to other fields, such as theoretical physics, where we would not expect that ordinary mortals would understand it. See page 156: “why should the layman be other than bored and puzzled by what he is unable to understand, music or anything else?”

    The alternative approach, where the value of music is only determined by the number of people who want to listen to it, results in the X-factor, of course.

  13. Pingback: A Link to the Past 10/08/2012 « In Defence of Liberty

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