Monday 14 July 2014

Jonathan Powers - Evolution Evolving - iOpening Books - 2013

Jonathan Powers - Evolving Evolution ; Part One - Dr Erasmus Darwin - iOpening Books, 2013
Dr Erasmus Darwin (1731 - 1802) was grandfather of Charles Darwin and, as the author explains, "articulated his own evolutionary worldview" before his grandson published On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Erasmus was not the only early evolutionist to have links to Derby as Robert Waring Darwin and Herbert Spencer were also "linked to the same Midlands industrial town".
The author agrees with Paul Elliott that "this `evolutionary perspective` .. was a by-product of the belief in technological progress which accompanied the early industrial revolution - spreading from centres such as Derby, the Derwent Valley and Coalbrookdale to what became the great manufacturing centres of the Midlands and the North." He goes on to argue that "this perspective also influenced the character of their evolutionary views which...were distinctly and unrepentantly progressivist." 
The author is at pains to put Darwin into context and spends some time explaining how Darwins` idea fitted in with, or differed from, his philosophical forebears, going back at some points as far as Hippocrates and Aristotle. I believe this is useful, though once or twice I did feel we might be getting too much of a good thing.
Looking at the changing times in which Darwin lived, Mr Powers emphasises the social changes engendered by the Industrial Revolution. He points out that in the Middle Ages "it was enturely natural to see everything, as well as everyone, as having been planned to fit into their `proper places`", but argues that "the rise of a `merchant class` and the development of a Market Economy...began to destabilise the assumptions of the old order."
He points out that Darwin did not see his `evolutionism` as working against (his version of) Christianity, believing in a deity he variously referred to as The Great Architect, The Cause of Causes and his "celestial guide".
Frequent use is made of quotations from Darwins` poetry and while it`s not to my taste, I think it is useful to have these.    
 It is outside the scope of this review to discuss all the issues and ideas contained in this booklet so I shall content myself with the observation that Erasmus Darwin was no numpty and neither is Jonathan Powers. 
We turn now to reactions to Darwins` beliefs. The most significant of these came when Darwin and like-minded bods formed a group called the Derby Society for Political Information. In the great tradition of these things they  held meetings on licensed premises and eventually produced their `manifesto`, a broadsheet addressed "To the Friends of Free Enquiry and the General Good`. Initially this was not deemed controversial and indeed it was published in the Chester Chronicle with accompanying editorial comment endorsing its` "genuine sentiments of freedom, liberality and truth" which the writer believed would be welcomed by "every friend to the happiness and prosperity of the people".
The document appears to have been a philosophical treatise on the nature and purposes of `true government`. While it did accuse the British Government of "deep and alarming abuses" it was careful to qualify this with the observations that "our situation is comfortable, compared with that of many European kingdoms" and that "as the times are in some degree moderate, they ought to be free from riot and confusion". However, the closing paragraph, which invited "friends of form similar societies and to act with unanimity and firmness till the people be too wise to be imposed upon" was treated by the authorities as an incitement to rebellion. In truth, the aim of the signatories was only that their followers should seek  "influence in the government"..."commensurate with their dignity and importance". So, campaigners seeking to bring pressuere to bear on  government rather than revolutionaries seeking to overthrow it.
They lived in turbulent times, however. Darwin, a Republican, had initially welcomed the French Revolution, and had twice turned down the chance to become the King`s Personal Physician. Some reaction was probably inevitable.
When the Morning Chronicle  published the Derby Societys` declaration both the publisher and printer were arrested for spreading "seditious libel". 
In a comparable case the previous year Thomas Muir, an Edinburgh lawyer, had been transported to Botany Bay for 14 years when charged with sedition. These defendants were  more fortunate. The jury initially attempted to mitigate the offence by delvering a verdict that they were guilty of publishing the material in question but "without malicious intent." The judge rejected their verdict as invalid, only to have them return a second verdict of `Not Guilty."
Although Mr P does not mention it, the case anticipated in many ways the 1794 Treason Trials ( http://en.wikipedia/wiki.org1794_Treason_Trials/ ), a set of cases in which jurors rejected attempts to use the Courts to stifle debate. In my view, these are cases which should be more widely known, though I must admit I was unaware of them myself until a week or two ago ! 
All this and more is to be found in Mr P`s worthy tome. In places I personally felt there was a bit too much detail, but there again I`m probably a very different person to the author. Overall, I found it a satisfying read which only occasionally lapses into academic jargon.
More importantly, for me it brought to life a person from history who was previously just a name to me. I`m not sure where you can purchase a copy online - I like to think that is sold clandestinely, possibly in a plain wrapper, in secret hotbeds of latter-day radicalism located somewhere near Derby City Centre. That would be quite glamorous in it`s way.
If such networks are not available to you, there are a few of Jonathan Powers` I-Opening Booklets for sale in the gift shop at Derby Museum !

Saturday 5 July 2014

Action Mesothelioma Day 4 July 2014

Yesterday was Action Mesothelioma Day here in the UK.
AMD is a day of events aimed at raising funds and/or awareness in relation to asbestos-related illness. I became interesed in the issue a few years ago when a friend of mine died as a result of exposure to asbestos whilst working for a roofing company and each yeasr I like to do my bit to publicise the event, usually by posting details at or elsewhere.  It`s not much, but it`s what I can do.
For details of this year`s events and actvities, contact Debbie Neale via  .
I understand that one of the groups concerned has created a petition, which you can view at . The petition, headed `Provision of Research Funding into Asbestos Related Diseases`  will be live until 9 January 2015.
If you want to sign the petition, all well and good. If you prefer to learn more about the subject, and/or about a few of the groups involved in this years` AMD, here are some links  ;

Sunday 27 April 2014

Evolution Evolving

I`ve neglected this blog far more than I meant to in recent times.

In the unlikely event that anyone`s missed my humble offerings during that time, you might wish to know that I`m currently working on a review of  `Evolution Evolving ; Part One - Dr Erasmus Darwin` by Jonathan Powers.

I`m only part way through Mr P`s booklet but am hoping to post a review very soon.

Saturday 8 March 2014

A Brief Hiatus

Just a short note to say I haven`t abandoned this blog, but circumstances outside my control have kept me from giving it much attention for a while.

I mean to rectify that in the very near future !

In the meantime, here`s a picture of a hedgehog.

Monday 30 September 2013

W R Lester - Unemployment and the Land - United Committee for the Taxation of Land Values

W R Lester - Unemployment and the Land - United Committee for the Taxation of Land Values, 4th edition,  1933

"All great truths are simple truths, and all great problems can be reduced to their simple elements, however complicated they may appear at first sight." - W R Lester

In my previous posting on this blog, we looked at the thoughts of Frank Dupuis and I mentioned that he found the answers to many of his questions in W R Lester`s Unemployment and the Land.

Since I own a copy of said work, it seems logical to look at that now.

W R Lester was, I believe,  William Richard Lester, born 1860, an admirer of American political philosopher Henry George. He was an election candidate for the Liberal Party* in 1910 and the author of a number of pamphlets, most, if not all,  of  which were connected with the question of land value taxation.

If anyone has any further information on the literate Liberal Lester, I`d be glad to hear from you.

Unemployment and the Land is a pleasure to read. Mr L puts his case clearly and succinctly, arguing his points well.

His argument is that unemployment is a relatively modern, artificial phenomenon and that it`s existence shows that "our civilization has taken a wrong turning". The roots of this modern malaise can, he believes, be traced back to the enclosure of common land in the Middle Ages. 

"Unemployment is no part of the natural order as many assume it to be" he asserts.

His arguments and opinions do not easily fit into neat little categories of  right/left politics. He identifies the monopolisation of land ownership by a wealthy few as the source of the problem he wishes to address, but is no opponent of capitalism. He argues that "it is futile to blame Goverments for not `providing` work. They cannot do it." but endorses a statement made by Henry George ;

"If there is want, if there is scarcity, if there are men who cannot find employment, if there are people starving in the midst of plenty, is it not simply because what the Creator intended for the use of man has been made the private property of the few ?"

One area of his thinking will have been of particular interest to Frank Dupuis, which is the effect of imposition of western practises on African societies and, by extension, on other areas of what was then the empire ;

"To-day this process of enclosure, under another name, is proceeding before our eyes among native tribes in Colonial possessions, with the same dire consequences...So long as the natives retained their tribal lands, workless men did not and could not exist."

He goes on to detail hearings on the matter under the name of the Native Labour Commission (Kenya), 1912 - 13 ;

"Settler after settler came before the Commission and demanded in the most precise terms that the natives should be forced out of  `reserves` to work  for wages by cutting down their land so that they should have less than they could live on...The process of reducing men to unemployment and poverty is here stated in all its` nakedness." 

Do his ideas make sense ? For myself, I have to say I am not someone who is readily persuaded by ideas that have never been tried anywhere, or to the glib assumption that a proposed course of action will have no unintended consequences. At the same time, if everyone thought like that very little would ever change ! For the moment then, I count myself as sympathetic but unconvinced.

Assuming one accepts his arguments regarding the enclosure of common land, one`s response could vary quite a bit, from joining, say,  The Ramblers or the Open Spaces Society (my own preferred option) ,  to storming the barricades like some latter-day revolutionary ! Taxing the value of land is only one of a variety of choices one could make.

Nonetheless, Lester is a provocative thinker and an advocate of reasoned and orderly change, so for that reason he is, in my opinion, well worth a read.


For a more recent look at the question of land value taxation, this article may be of interest ;

Unsigned - `Land Value Tax "Should be Examined"` - 14 Sep 2013 at

( ) 

* The Liberal Party that Lester knew has two modern descendants, the Liberal Democrat Party ( ) and the Liberal Party ( ) .


Friday 7 June 2013

Quotation Station - Frank Dupuis

"The contrasts to be observed between the effects of the depression in Africa and England were striking enough to arouse my curiosity. In Africa the collapse of export markets meant bankruptcy to many planters and some traders and had aroused discontent among native producers but no African was either destitute or even badly in want. The `unemployment problem` simply did not exist.

To find in England, where people were suppposed to be so much richer and wiser than `natives`, multitudes depending upon public assistance even for food, and begging for hard work as if it were a charity to be dispensed by the generous, was startling. It impressed me as unnatural although my English friends, to whom it was customary, did not regard it so. They were satisfied that all differences between England and Africa could be explained by industrialisation. But they could not tell me how.

I thought they condemned in advance any suggestion that a more primitive society might have some lesson to teach them. Was not the black man a poor brother in need of their help and guidance ? As I knew that the black man was just the same as other people and quite capable of providing for himself, I was less disposed to accept assurances which others seemed to pass without question."

Frank Dupuis - A Planter`s Story, in `Land and Liberty` magazine, 1957 

Frank Dupuis spent nearly twenty years in Africa. He may originally have gone there on military service, but at some point he took up agricultural pursuits, returning to England in 1931.

He found the answers to his questions in W R Lester`s Unemployment and the Land and as a result became involved in a group called the United Commmittee for the Taxation of Land Values, contributing to their periodical Land and Liberty regularly.

For the moment we will simply note that the United Committee was a body that drew inspiration from the works of American philosopher Henry George and was not an organisation that can be easily classified as being either left or right wing. It still exists today, under the name the Henry George Foundation.

The quote above is interesting in many ways and I suspect different people will take different things from it. I am quite happy for that to be the case and have no intention of  interposing my own thoughts and interpretations.