Absolute principles vs. absolute power


According to recent UK legislation imposed to enforce the new hotel quarantine rules, those who travel to red-listed countries such as Portugal, for example, and fail to report it, risk up to ten years in jail.

In a recent article, Lord Jonathan Sumption (a former judge of the UK Supreme Court) defined Matt Hancock, the minister who’s behind the hotel quarantine rules and this new legislation, a “tyrant”. Like all tyrants, Lord Sumption argues, Mr. Hancock believes that the end justifies the means: he will stop at nothing in order to pursue this end, whatever it takes (Draghi style): i.e. without any regard to the liberties, lives, wealth and humanity which are crushed in the process. 

In a previous article, Lord Sumption had already pointed out that new Covid legislation made the UK a “police state” and was the expression of a collective “hysteria”: surely, these are words which must have not been easy to write for a person who until only a few years ago was a judge of the UK Supreme Court.

However laudable are Lord Sumption conclusions, his reasoning expresses some fundamental, logical inconsistencies which are quite typical of those who would like to defend liberty but cannot make the necessary intellectual step to actually do it.

In fact, at one point Lord Sumption states that “There are no absolute principles, but only pros and cons”. 


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Can a rule be less arbitrary if it is imposed by parliament rather than by the police?


In a truly beautiful article, Jonathan Sumption (a former judge of the UK supreme court) makes two statements.

The first is that today the UK is a police state: “What is a police state? It is a state in which individuals are answerable to the police for the most routine acts of daily life. It is a state in which the police and not the law decide what is allowed. It is a state in which people have to hide their doings from their neighbours for fear of the twitching curtain and anonymous call to the police. It is a state in which ministers denounce activities of which they disapprove and the police are their compliant instruments. … We are unfortunate to live at a time of national hysteria, when that tradition [of of rule of law] has been cast aside and every one of these classic symptoms of a police state can be seen all around us

The second statement is that a police state is opposite to the rule of law: “If the law says that it is reasonable to go out to take exercise, it is not for a policeman to say that it isn’t. If the law does not forbid driving somewhere to take exercise, then it is not for the police to forbid it. … It is not the function [of the police] to enforce the wishes of ministers. It is not [its] function to do whatever is necessary to make government policy work. [Its] function is to apply the law. If the law is not tough enough, that is not a matter for them but for ministers and Parliament“.

While the first statement is not problematic, the second one in my opinion is.

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C’è una cosa che Trump può ancora fare per uscire con meno disonore


C’è una cosa che il presidente Trump può ancora fare per lasciare la Casa Bianca con meno disonore (agli occhi di alcuni fra coloro che lo hanno votato come di molti che, fra i sostenitori del processo democratico, lo avversano). Questa cosa può essere fatta immediatamente e a costo zero: perdonare Ross Ulbricht e Julian Assange. Se non lo facesse perderebbe l’ultima opportunità che gli è rimasta per essere ricordato come un presidente che ha fatto almeno qualcosa per difendere il libero mercato (dei beni e dei servizi così come quello dele idee) e l’ideale di libertà (che, nel suo significato non arbitrario, non ha nulla a che vedere con la democrazia).

There is something that president Trump can still do in order to leave the White House with less dishonour (less dishonour in the eyes of some of those who voted for him as well as in the eyes of many of those who oppose him). Something that can be done immediately and at no cost: pardon Ross Ulbricht and Julian Assange. If he did not do it, he would lose the last chance he still has to be remembered as a president who did at least something to defend the free market (of goods & services as well as that of ideas) and the ideal of liberty (which, in its non-arbitrary meaning, is something that has nothing to do with democracy).

Sovereignty of the state vs. sovereignty of the individual


I strongly suggest the following article by Janet Daley for The Telegraph (what a great writer!) on why the EU’s reaction to the UK’s approval of a Covid vaccine is the expression of the communist principles it was based on.

Here a short extract:

Have you got that? It is, apparently, more important for all the EU member states to be seen to act together than it is to make the speediest possible decision on a vaccine that could save lives. At the present mortality rate in Europe, a delay of a further month might mean an extra death toll of hundreds of thousands – and still more delay to the economic recovery that can only follow once restrictions have ended, with all the further damage to the quality of life that will involve. So European unity is worth more than anything – even life itself?
It is difficult to understand how such a view could be uttered without any embarrassment. To comprehend the set of beliefs from which it springs, you need to recall the origins of this whole idea: European unity was the post-war antidote to the mass murder of one another’s people that had been such a feature of the last century. But it was also the milder form of that other monumental twentieth century phenomenon: the communist principle (note the small “c”) that social benefits must always be collective and equally distributed. Everybody has to have precisely the same advantages as everybody else at the same time. This is what Brussels calls “solidarity”.

The EU, where I still live, is and has always been a political-bureaucratic structure based on communist (and therefore totalitarian as well as economically catastrophic) ‘principles’.

However, doesn’t the same general, logical principle of liberty which applies in the relation between a sovereign state (e.g. the UK) and a superstate (the EU) also apply in the relation between the individual and a national state?

For example, aside from communist ‘principles’ (fully equivalent to those on which the EU is based) and ‘government economics’ (e.g. Keynesian economics, which is no economics at all), why shouldn’t an individual decide for himself which kind of money to use? Why not a free market in the money sector? On the ground of which general, logical principle shouldn’t the individual be sovereign in this and other areas where the national state imposes its own sovereignty upon him?

I have the impression that national states (just like anyone else) can be rightly inclined to defend the principle of sovereignty (which is an important part of the principle of liberty: the non-aggression principle) when it’s their sovereignty, but (each state to a different degree in different sectors) are utterly unwilling to defend the same principle when it is the sovereignty of the individual.

Because liberty is a logical principle, it is not compatible with arbitrary, double standards.

Is the ‘Balmoral test’ compatible with the rules of hospitality?

According to the Netflix series The Crown, there is an informal ‘Balmoral test’ which guests of the Royal family, when invited at their Scottish country house, are expected to pass. This ‘test’ is a lot about wearing the right clothes, enjoying the right activities and doing the right things in different particular situations.

Apparently, the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, by joining the hosts at 6 pm dressed up for dinner while everyone else was dressed informally for the drinks, has dramatically failed the ‘test’. While Mrs. Thatcher’s ‘failure’ is probable (after all she came from a different background: less privileged and more free-market oriented), it is quite unlikely that she failed it in that way.

British newspapers are currently filled with quiz-articles asking readers if they would pass the ‘Balmoral test’.

A ‘Balmoral test’ surely exists in one form or another, and not only in the Scottish residence of the Queen. Most importantly, it exists in the minds and even in the instincts of many individuals. And I venture to say that the more elevated individuals are in their own field (whether it is aristocratic background or bitcoin expertise; alpinism or sailing; etc.) the more they will tend to impose the ‘Balmoral test’ on their guests.

But is this test (or rather its more or less explicit disclosure to the guest) compatible with the rules of hospitality?

First of all, what kind of rules are these?

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You can’t have your cake and eat it too


Like many other articles of The Telegraph, this beautiful one by Allison Pearson, where she criticizes the government for violating liberty too much rather than too little, would be almost unthinkable in any Italian newspaper.

However, the very concept of violating liberty “too much” is part of a paradigm which itself is incompatible with liberty (scientifically defined) and which, in the long run, inevitably contributes to increase (and not to decrease) the legal violations of liberty.

For the same reasons why you cannot logically steal “too much” or “too little” (you can steal a lot or a little, but either you steal or you don’t), you cannot violate liberty “too much” or “too little”. Either you violate liberty or you don’t. Either you are in favour of a social structure in which the government can legally do things that individuals cannot do without committing a crime, or you’re against it. It’s not about seeing the world in black and white: it’s about applying logic where logic is needed. Continue reading

Economic Cycles

Giovanni Birindelli (guest lecturer), June 2020

Economic Cycles. The perspective of the Austrian School of Economics

University of Milan, Course in Economic Geography (Prof. Alessandro Vitale)

LLM in Sustainable Development, Faculty of Law

Book review: Edward Snowden’s “Permanent record”


(Italian version here)

While reading Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, I was astonished by the qualities of the author. Notwithstanding his understatement, these qualities clearly emerged from the details of his story: his courage, above all. His intelligence. His computing abilities, which to me seem almost supernatural. His rectitude. His profound kindness that is revealed in every line of his book. His great humaneness.

While each one of these qualities in itself would have already been extraordinary because of its intensity, the contemporary presence of all of them in the same person at the same time made me rethink the limits of what I once considered to be humanly possible.

In this article I will not discuss these qualities. I think that the best way to appreciate them is to buy the book and read it.

I’m so much humbled by them and by Snowden’s purely heroic gesture that I’m instinctively inclined to censor my own criticism of some aspects of his thought that I believe are logically inconsistent. In fact, in relation to the choices, the capabilities, the actions and the qualities of a hero of this magnitude, these inconsistencies have such little importance that they appear to be almost negligible. However, they are about the very ideas on which his gesture was based: namely, the very concept of privacy and the difference between what is legal and what is right. Therefore, perhaps a discussion of these inconsistencies may be not entirely useless. In addition, I do not believe that self-censorship would be the best way to homage the person who, at the beginning all alone, has defied the most powerful nation in the world (and its allies) to denounce its mass surveillance programs and start a debate on these issues.

Criticizing from the comfort of one’s desk, on a theoretical level, the ideas of someone who risked his own life to defend them (and who’s living in exile for having defended them), is not usually an aesthetically beautiful thing to do, I believe. However, in this particular case, I consider this criticism a tribute to the man who has risked his own life to start a much-needed debate on privacy and on the difference between what is legal and what is right. This criticism is for me a way to acknowledge the debt that I, together with my family, have with Edward Snowden and that I know I will hardly ever manage to pay back.

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