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Revisiting the ‘Essay on Woman’ Scandal

Apart from the royal birth – in Paddington, giving rise to concerns that the prince may turn out to be a marmalade-eating bear – the only news this week is the Prime Minister’s war on pornography, which is a genre of licentious writing and/or images available on the internet and elsewhere, often criticised for its below-average artistic merit. No doubt this new war will be just as successful as the wars on drugs, poverty, terrorism et cetera.

Of course, our interest in the precise details of this or that particular public policy is close to zero, it being generally recognised that the people who devise them are a sorry lot of ill-dressed mediocrities whose relationship with both focus groups and the media might well be metaphorically represented in the kind of images now facing a ban. It is, however, a good opportunity to revist the famous scandal of the Essay on Woman, John Wilkes’ lewd parodic poem which, when it fell into the hands of the authorities, came closer to destroying him than any of his political writings. Read more

Quote of the Day

European Arrest Warrant, forsooth. Always apply the John Wilkes Test to any procedural aspect of criminal justice:

“To take any man into custody, and deprive him of his liberty, without having some seeming foundation at least, on which to justify such a step, is inconsistent with wisdom and sound policy. If, upon examination (which, surely, the common feelings of humanity would suggest ought to be as speedy as possible), that foundation proves weak, then to detain those persons, or to oblige them to give in bail, in order to obtain a discharge, which, under such circumstances, they have a right to in the most free and absolute manner, is inconsistent with justice.”

The North Briton, No. 27, December 4 1762.

Are property rights and economic freedom compatible with hanging buy-to-let scumbags?

Perhaps the first modern economic dirigiste was Diomede Carafa, a fifteenth century Neapolitan duke and theorist of monarchical absolutism, of whom Joseph Schumpeter once wrote: “The normal processes of economic life harboured no problem for Carafa. The only problem was how to manage and improve them.” So aptly could this be applied to almost every opinion expressed by today’s politicians that it is worth bearing in mind – as an admonitory – whenever we think about economic matters. Nevertheless, with property prices becoming detached not just from economic fundamentals but from elementary sanity, this is an economic problem to be solved, not merely a process to be understood.

Our relationship with housing is like one of those comic movie scenes where someone is hopelessly running after an accelerating train. The housing charity Shelter’s crisis talk about affordability and ‘generation rent’ does not go far enough, because the resulting demand for rental properties means that even renting is becoming unaffordable. In London, even young professionals are living in cramped, shabby flats, forking out tens of thousands a year to some absentee landlord who bought the place decades ago for eight shillings and sixpence and now lives a life of ease in one of those awful British colonies in southern Europe full of old people wearing brightly coloured waist-pouches with zips. Read more

Like the poor khat i’ the adage

Khat – a kind of flowering shrub native to the Red Sea littoral – produces some unpleasant-looking leaves which have been chewed socially for thousands of years by people who enjoyed architecture and poetry when the English were still living in forests on the wrong side of the North Sea. Yet we descendants of those same woodland savages have now decided, through the worthy deliberations of Home Secretary Theresa May, to make its supply punishable by fourteen years’ imprisonment.

According to her own expert advice, the mild stimulant effects are mostly harmless, and far less to write home about than alcohol and tobacco. Still, reluctant to let an innocent pleasure go unpunished, the state has ignored this advice and banned it anyway. Daily life for most of us will go blithely on as before, but our rightful dominion over our own affairs, already a shrunken and feeble thing, just got a little smaller. Conversely, Theresa May’s dominion over us is correspondingly bigger, and we can not be alone in suspecting that this does not represent a major step forward for civilisation. Read more