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This conversation was recorded on 5 October 2021 and Brian died 10 days later. It was the last time we spoke.

This was - not surprisingly - an odd conversation. It was dominated by Brian's knowledge that he was not long for this world. It was also dominated by all sorts of connectivity problems. And when all was said and done it wasn't all said and done because Brian called me back because there was a bit he'd forgotten.

Brian had something on his mind. Regular listeners will know that at the beginning of this year we recorded a conversation on the Industrial Revolution and that our most recent conversation whilst starting on the Middle Ages eventually moved on to the Industrial Revolution again. What Brian had on his mind was something to do with the works of Deirdre McCloskey and Emmanuel Todd. What that "something" was I didn't know and still don't. Brian could be a difficult man to follow especially if you're a dullard like me. If you have ever listened to a few of these conversations you will be familiar with my floundering in Brian's wake, not only not understanding what he has just said but not even being able to find the right questions to ask in order to get some clarification. So it is here. It was bad enough at the best of times. Anyone who knew Brian will know that he was very good at dominating a conversation. He was not an easy man to interrupt and that did not get any easier after he was diagnosed with cancer.

So, I failed to pin down just what it was that Brian wanted to say. Maybe it will be obvious to others who are more familiar with McCloskey and Todd or with Brian's own thinking. Maybe we'll have to leave it to some ideological cryptanalysts to decode Brian's remarks. At least there's something to decode.

We also talk about Brian's Last Friday (30:30) which was held on 3 September 2021 in central London. This meant an awful lot to him. 

We also talk about Tommy Robinson (38:00). This was something I wanted to talk about. Well, actually I didn’t but Brian was always most insistent that we should alternate when it came to introducing the subject. So it was to the end. 

And then we talk about Germany and the Industrial Revolution - the bit Brian had forgotten.

So, it was already pretty disjointed before the connectivity issues made it even more so. I have also kept a lot of stuff in that I would normally have edited out. Why? Because it feels like the right thing to do. I can’t express it better than that.

There ought to be another paragraph here in which I come to a conclusion. A concluding paragraph even. Something about what a joy and a privilege it has been to have had these conversations routinely over the last 5 years and intermittently for a lot longer. But I don't have the words. Brian was special.

If you have any comments to make on this please make them at Samizdata.

Brian Quotes

"The big history date of the last thousand years was the wealth explosion and it happened in Britain."

"Emmanuel Todd is quite open about his admiration for the Anglosphere."

"Todd has very interesting things to say about Homo Americanus which he thinks is very similar to original human nature."

"Liberty, equality and fraternity spread in Europe after Napoleon was defeated."

"McCloskey and Todd between them could have cracked this but in fact they needed the intervention of Micklethwait."

"I want to make it clear that I attach great importance to my own opinions about this."

"…and if they [McCloskey and Todd] both get their bits right then between them they have it all, they have the whole story. As it is the only one with the whole story is me."

"I am torn in half about whether America will shake itself loose of all this woke nonsense."

"What I find interesting about Tommy Robinson is that people succeed in creating this false idea of what he is and then if you disagree you are accused of supporting this false person."

Notes

  1. The Todd podcast.
  2. Battle of Acre.
  3. The Battle of Acre book.
  4. Lineages of Modernity; a review by Tyler Cowen.
  5. Brian's blog post on the gap between the English Civil War and the Industrial Revolution. 
  6. Try as I might I cannot find any reference - by Brian or otherwise - to the duke - or any other potentate - who wanted to imprison Beethoven but couldn’t.

Brian died on the 15th October which seems difficult to believe when you listen to him here. Yes, there are signs of the lung cancer that eventually killed him but otherwise he is alert, keen, articulate, thoughtful. All very Brian.

But, but… please don’t be encouraged or discouraged on that account. For Brian it was the ideas that mattered. We allude to that in this very podcast. I am sure he would far prefer people to listen to this because of the ideas expressed than for sentimental reasons.

In the preliminary discussion to this Brian suggested that rather than determining a title for these talks in advance we should have the chat and then decide what the title should be. This chat was going to be the first try out of this idea. Unfortunately, we got disconnected in our prime (hence the rather abrupt ending). Also, it’s still difficult to tell what we actually ended up talking about. Yes, we start off talking about the Middle Ages but we very quickly start talking about the Industrial Revolution and how lucky we are to live in the age we do. Let's see if I can make something of that. Along the way we talk about the Common Law, Europe’s revolutions and plenty of other things. 

The beginning is plagued by connectivity issues which I’ve kept in partly because I am too lazy to take them out and partly to demonstrate what we were up against but, believe me, it does get better.

We recorded one more conversation after this which I will publish as soon as I get round to it. 

Notes

  1. That King John podcast? Might be this one.
  2. James II did indeed get a nose bleed at a bad time.
  3. The Kink
  4. The Great Stink was in 1858.
  5. Semmelweiss.
  6. The Industrial Revolution podcast we refer to is here.
  7. I, of course, mean the Taiping Rebellion.
  8. The podcast about German Second World War code-breaking is here
  9. It was Rob Thompson (not Geoff) I was referring to and here is a talk of his on First World War logistics. 
  10. Finlay Dunachie’s How Britain got Lucky.
  11. The famous fort designer was Vauban.

 

Disclaimer time. If you're looking for an explanation of the ins and outs of TCP/IP or packet switching this is not the podcast for you. This is about how Brian has used printers, photocopiers and the internet down the years to get the libertarian message across. The key thing - for Brian, at least - has been how to keep the costs down.

Along the way, we talk about LA Pamphlets, Brian and the libertarian big cheeses, universities in the late 1960s, the Royal Festival Hall's dreadful acoustics, how to sell tickets to student plays, the difference between the Libertarian Alliance and other free market think tanks and Crossrail. We even manage to find time right at the end to talk about Deidre McCloskey.

Brian quotes

"I've learnt from experience that when people say things in public they generally mean them."

"I was just observing the absurd antics of the Lenins with hair who were infesting this university in this completely delusional state of mind."

"The Royal Festival Hall was built at a sort of 2000-year low in acoustic competence."

“…look at Boris Johnson. You get the impression that his latest wife occupies about half of his head.”

“Most men are very frightened about boring people about what they do and tend to be very evasive about it.”

Notes

  1. Simon Rattle's concert hall.
  2. The Epic of Gilgamesh would indeed appear to be the oldest surviving story.
  3. “Rob” is Rob Fisher who runs the Brian Micklethwait Archive.

Or “Ulster” as I would have it. Back in the day I was an Ulster unionist - still am for what it is worth - but I was a bit keener with my unionism in those days.

As such, Brian picks my brains on why there was ever a conflict, why it ended and what we can learn from it.

In doing so we talk about my personal experiences of the Republic of Ireland, the role of religion [spoiler alert: there isn't one], when ethnic disputes arise and when they don't, how the Swiss manage things, what we may be in for in England and the importance of the Cold War.

Brian Quotes

"It’s always felt to me like an inevitable future that Ireland would eventually be a single nation."

"Even lies that get around can tell you something."

"There was one particular quality of the Irish scrounging classes that I especially detested and that was when they would say, 'Cheer up' to you, and my answer was always, 'Fuck off!'"

“I do think language is central to this.”

“But the fact that the Irish don’t have any designs on governing Manchester or London is all part of why people like me just don’t really bother with it.”

Notes

  1. The academic survey I refer to is Richard Rose's Governing without Consensus.
  2. Irish began to be displaced by English in the 18th century. The number of people speaking Irish on a daily basis is in the region of 73,000. And, yes there was an Irish language qualification for the civil service.
  3. It would appear that Serbo-Croat is one language  while Slovene is distinct.
  4. Franco certainly tried to make everyone speak Spanish (Castillian).
  5. The United Kingdom has a population of 67m and 84.3% of them live in England.
  6. I can't find any evidence that there was a huge underestimate of the number of EU citizens who had applied to stay in the UK but I can find a huge discrepancy in the number of applications that the Daily Mail says were made and   the number that Wikipedia says were made.
  7. The Darien Scheme.
  8. How were Irishmen who fought for Britain in the Second World War treated on their return? According to the headline of this article, badly but there's not a lot of evidence given to back it up.
  9. Eamon de Valera expressed condolences on Hitler's death.
  10. The Ed Hussein video that Brian talks about may be this one.
  11. Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent.
  12. Hamilton & Montgomery were indeed the organisers of the largest plantation.
  13. According to this list there do not appear to have been any rebellions by the natives in Britain after Boudica.

 

This perhaps requires some explanation. Originally, the idea was to talk about the Libertarian Alliance split which we do briefly talk about in the podcast. However, it rapidly became apparent that this was not going to be the main thrust of what we were going to talk about; rather we were going to talk about what the “other” side did, meaning what they achieved, which was quite a lot as it happens.

In doing so, we cover Orwell, Mises, Marx, atheism and why people are not as closed minded as we often think.

We also meander but you, the regular listener, wouldn’t expect anything else. Such meanderings include: Chris Tame’s Randianism; Murray Rothbard; the economic calculation debate; the Anti-Soviet Society and woke politics. 

Brian quotes

“I would far rather be understood and disagreed with than agreed with because misunderstood.”

“Your expectations of the future feed into what you think is going to happen now.”

“In other words [the socialists] kept the enterprise going and changed the excuses for it.“

“There is a point when lies go up to another level.”

“The whole point of wokery is that it is bollocks.”

“A lot of arm-twisting goes on in the socialist world.”

Notes

  1. America’s Great Depression
  2. From Marx to Mises
  3. Mises's Socialism. 
  4. Was David Ramsay Steele a lecturer? No
  5. Atheism explained
  6. Steele's Orwell book. 
  7. Did Margaret Thatcher say, “One day they will be free.”? That’s how I remember it. The Thatcher Foundation seem to think that’s what she said although it is absent from the quoted BBC transcript. 
  8. The Soviet Coup
  9. Kondratiev was indeed a socialist. So socialist in fact that Stalin had him executed in the Great Purge.
  10. Politics & The English Language 
  11. It is of course the “active voice”.
  12. That article for Samizdata Stephen Davies on Brexit and political realignment.
  13. Myth of the Closed Mind
  14. Khrushchev made his “We will bury you.” remark in 1956. 

We start off by talking about Euro 2020 and ask why Gareth Southgate has been so successful. We move on to black sporting prowess, what happens when sport gets cancelled and then war and nuclear weapons. We end by considering refereeing and the psychology of fighter pilots.

Brian Quote

“You don’t need a meeting; it happened of it’s own accord.”

Notes

  1. The maximum wage was in place from 1901 to 1961.
  2. Wellington's army at Waterloo was about 70,000 strong.  which means it was slightly more than British casualties on the first day of the Somme.
  3. Keith Miller was an Australian cricketer.
  4. Jack Charlton did indeed players to go out there and enjoy themselves

In doing so we talk about British justifications for war, Russia and Japan, linear reasoning, nationalism, the European Union and Ireland.

Having listened to this a few times I realise I should have given Brian a lot more push back on the theory about Russia arming against Japan and this alarmed Germany. To the best of my knowledge, all Russian military expansion in the period immediately preceding the war was aimed at Germany. The French would certainly not have been lending them so much money (see Notes) if the expansion was aimed at Japan. 

Also while listening to this it dawned on me that while I am talking about Teddy Roosevelt (1:05:00 or thereabouts), Brian is talking about Franklin Roosevelt. Whoops!
 

Brian Quotes

“Causation is not a linear process.”

“The biggest lie is that the First World War started because no one knew how to stop it.”

“…often what matters is not the actual state of things but the direction in which things are moving.”

“I committed my perennial sin of talking too much.”

 
Notes

  1. Our original First World War podcast, or at least the one that Brian was talking about.
  2. William leQueux wrote The Invasion of 1910
  3. Asquith's speeches (amongst others) can be found here.
  4. Did the Russians know how dangerous mobilisation was? Well, they certainly did when the Germans issued them with an ultimatum.
  5. Did Russia have a treaty with Serbia? Apparently not.
  6. Does Norman Stone claim that Russian railways were more East-West than North-South? I tried to find a reference but without success.
  7. How much was France spending? A lot it would appear.
  8. The Second Morocco crisis was in 1911.
  9. Was it the Tsar who backed out of Björkö? Yes
  10. Did the socialists have a majority in the Reichstag? No, but they had become the largest party
  11. TIK the YouTuber. 

 

This conversation was inspired by the works of Steve Stewart-Williams principally his book The Ape that Understood the Universe and his Twitter feed. We talk about the nature versus nurture debate, design, the importance of copying, the woke fraternity, Breton fishing boats, the caveman inside us, Richard Dawkins, the importance (or otherwise) of music (and, by extension other forms of culture) before moving on to the horrors of modern architecture and the horrors of Nissen huts in the Winter of 1963.

Brian Quotes

“It could well be that in Malaysia they are more scornful of this sort of thing than we are in the Anglo-Saxon world.”

“Obesity is not exactly a problem they had on the ancient plains of Africa or wherever it is we did our evolving.”

“…humans are, even now, evolving into the culture that humans have created.”

“One of the problems you have if you work from first principles is you have to re-think absolutely everything and you fail to re-think absolutely everything successfully.”

“That was a big pretence by the architectural profession that they had nothing to do with it, ‘Oh, that was the planners.’ Rubbish! They were absolutely up to their necks in this.”

“There’s a sort of labour theory of value that applies to decoration isn’t there? And if it’s just thrashed out by a machine it kind of loses its meaning.”

Notes

  1. The Ape that Understood the Universe.
  2. Brian has posted several times on this subject. Here are a few:
    1. What women look for in men.
    2. Breton fishing boats.
    3. The evolution of language.
    4. Nurture Only is wrong.
  3. Stewart-Williams appears to be an associate professor at the University of Nottingham, Malaysia Campus.
  4. It appears that our youthful tank crews were singing something called the Panzerlied which is a new one on me.
  5. Kenneth Clark did indeed hold concerts at a then painting-less National Gallery.
  6. Did Britain and Germany have the same national anthem in the First World War? Pretty much.
  7. For Ayn Rand’s views on architecture see the movie The Fountainhead (or even read the book if you’ve got the patience.)
  8. The Great Eastern. Did it have to be that size? To sail to Australia without stopping to re-fuel, yes.
  9.  Quinlan Terry.
  10.  I was quite wrong, Design as Outcome is not on the Brian Micklethwait Archive just yet. But it is here.
  11. Brutalist architecture or wartime Nazi bunker? I'll leave you to decide:

NaziBunker.jpg

NationalTheatre.jpg

Enoch Powell was a prominent politician in the 1960s and 1970s. He is best known for his views on immigation although he was also friendly towards libertarian ideas especially on economics. While a large part of our chat is inevitably taken up with immigration we also discuss Margaret Thatcher, Steve Baker and the end of Empire.

Brian quotes

"He regards office as a trivial thing by comparison [with ideas]."

"He [Powell] probably would have submitted it to a bigger publisher, the bigger publisher would have said 'Do you think you could tone this down?' and the answer was 'No!'"

Notes

  1. Simon Heffer’s biography 
  2. Powell’s history of the House of Lords 
  3. Powell and King’s Langley. I can’t find any subsequent reference to his theory so I have no idea whether it has become accepted or not.
  4. Powell resigned from the Macmillan government in January 1958.
  5. The substance of the House of Lords reform that both Conservative and Labour backbenchers could object to was the amount of front bench patronage involved.
  6. He became professor at the University of Sydney in 1937.
  7. His Wikipedia entry lists well over 30 writings. Some are books, some papers and some collections of speeches. 
  8. Powell was elected as an Ulster Unionist in the October 1974 election.
  9. East of Suez.
  10. There is some evidence to suggest that Blair used immigration to rig elections.
  11. Our diversity podcast.
  12. After the Falklands War, Powell had this to say in the House of Commons, “Is the right hon Lady aware, that the report has now been received from the public analyst on a certain substance recently subject to analysis and that I have obtained a copy of the report? It shows that the substance under test consisted of ferrous matter of the highest quality, that is of exceptional tensile strength, is highly resistant to wear and tear and to stress, and may be used with advantage for all national purposes?” The words were framed and hung in her office.
  13. The story about Powell and his Indian colleague appears on p.95 of Heffer.

This conversation came about from the observation made by both of us that on the big issues of the day whether they be Brexit, Trump or lockdowns, libertarians find themselves on either side of the divide - often vociferously so. Can libertarians be effective when they are so divided?

Sadly, we never really manage to answer this question. We do, however, manage to spend time talking about the importance of prosperity, the differences between active socialists and active libertarians, women orchestra conductors and the growth of the Anglosphere.

Right at the end we mention silences. There were plenty during the recording as the two of us (mainly me) gathered our thoughts. These have now been removed.

Brian quotes

“Libertarianism is a statement about how the world is.”

“If you by going on holiday and spread the plague you might as well be waving a machine gun in the air and firing it.”

“Optimism is a good technique”

Notes

  1. Kristian Niemitz 
  2. Anton Howes 
  3. One of Brian’s postings on Steve Stewart-Williams 
  4. What J K Rowling has to say 
  5. Perry de Havilland gets banned
  6. Brian on Chris Tame 
  7. I have been unable to find the speech by Brezhnev.
  8. J P Floru 
  9. Mancur Olsen

 

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