February 07, 2008

Guido vs Gracchi the Counterpunch

I give this article a more confrontational title than I want it to have, because having read Guido's response at Samizdata I have to say that I think he has something right and that some of my critique of him was not as plausibly phrased as it should have been. Lets isolate I think three points- one on which we agree, one on which I think I am going to move a little backwards and one where I think we can also establish a point of contact. This is an interesting debate: it has forced me to be much more positive about the kind of blogging that Guido does.

Guido and I agree that perceived self interest is much more important to politicians than self interest- we agree that politicians have a world view in which they do things and that they operate in their own interests. I am interested in what degree politicians are a different species from the general population in this: I'm still thinking about this one.

Where I concede is that Paul Staines is right: there is a separation between Paul and Guido, between the person and the blog persona. Perhaps because this blog is so much the creation of my personal whim and not of any attempt to create a persona, that means that I underestimated that. I should apologise that criticisms of Guido were meant to address the persona and not the person lying behind that persona. I accept the assurances offered that Paul has a long record of thinking about policy- I am sure that he does- most libertarians afterall get to their position after a lot of thinking. Throughout this post therefore I'm going to be quite precise- when I say Paul, I mean the individual behind the blog, when I say Guido I mean the persona in front of the blog so to speak. I hope that is a distinction that we can all agree on.

Lastly he is possibly right that the 'struggle' so far as it is one is going on on his blog and not this one. For the sake of this one I don't care- were the struggle going on here, I couldn't write so many film posts for a start I'd have to be disciplined and stick to politics. That isn't my style. But the real issue I suppose is dual: firstly its about what Paul says is Guido's anti politics. I can see as a libertarian why anti-politics works- in a sense the libertarian answer to the dilemma is to abolish politics itself. Remove stuff from the politicians and things will be fine- I am personally not so sure, as I have written elsewhere I don't think coercive power is simply the same as state power. Nor do I accept that political power is not exercised in other ways in a libertarian society: the people might be different and wear different hats but underlying my suspicion of politicians (something I share with Guido) is a suspicion of people- and ultimately I'm not sure about an anti-political approach to dealing with that. We need to work out systems for constraining and checking individual power and though libertarianism has a lot to contribute to that, I'm not sure that it has the answers.

The second point is about where the struggle is. Paul is right- I shouldn't care about Guido and I don't really care about millions of other blogs like Guido, but I do care about Guido. Thinking about it, its not Guido that I care about, so much as the fact that a gossip blog sits atop the blogging heirarchy in the UK. Its not envy precisely- I don't want this blog to be at the top of the blogging heirarchy- its a sense that Guido's blog doesn't allow his readers to understand what they should understand about the political world. Simply put I think that Guido should exist, but I wonder about the state of the political landscape if its the biggest in the country. That turns me I suppose to a bigger issue which is what blogs do and why people read them: I often wonder whether people's readership of blogs is simply to get a quick fix and whether we bloggers over analyse our output.Whether what people want is just to go over to Guido or Iain Dale and quickly read the latest on there as they take a break from work.

In the end Paul is right when he says that everyone is free to blog as they like- and then popularity comes. I suppose what I'm more interested in is what blogs tells us about politics and whether the story that they tell helps us understand politics. I'm not sure Guido is helpful there- because I think he makes us think that politics is about scandal only. Ultimately though I wonder whether we are still in the Drudge stage of the political cycle and whether as in America we shall see the slow growth of a wonkosphere eventually alongside the blogosphere. It does strike me that the problem with Guido as a blog is that it presents a naive view of politics- even if its writer doesn't hold that view of politics. That so many people read it says either one of two things- firstly that most people reading blogs read them for entertainment not enlightenment, and secondly that most people don't really understand politics that much and turn to sites like say Chris Dillow's or Matt Sinclair's which explain the thinking behind policy much better. I think its a mixture- my real issue is that its hard to find really good political commentary around about ideas and policy at the moment, you don't get it in the newspapers and you don't get it on many blogs. Its hard I think to know about the world of thinktanks and policy making (that world extends far beyond think tanks into the civil service and the business world as well) unless you are in the midst of it. Policy discussions go on over and above the general population who just get the gossip. In that sense Dale and Guido are just extreme versions of the MSM,

and what Britain needs is a stronger Wonkosphere- someone like Matt Yglesias to appear from somewhere!


Perry de Havilland said...

"We need to work out systems for constraining and checking individual power and though libertarianism has a lot to contribute to that, I'm not sure that it has the answers."

Sure but even amongst libertarians, this discussion gets intense and the minarchist/anarcho-capitalist arguments are endless and often wildly abstruse. Pretty much the only thing we agree on is we dislike the statists more than we dislike each other :-)

Perry de Havilland said...

oh and Matt Yglesias is a loathsome little turd. There are many decent leftists out there, he ain't one of them.

Guido Fawkes Esq. said...

I think there are more than enough people writing serious and little read blogs. That is not what I wanted to do.

I do actually break stories as well do pictures of political totty. News. Which takes up a huge amount of resources which would not be justified if I didn't have the traffic to make it worthwhile.

Matthew Sinclair said...

I'm just glad this conversation is being carried on in a civil manner. A credit to both of you.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

Perhaps because this blog is so much the creation of my personal whim and not of any attempt to create a persona, that means that I underestimated that.

Like you, my blog is me. I've just been attacked as being trite [in different words]. We have our target readerships and that's that. You don't, I don't, tune the message to a target group we'd like to have.

Anonymous said...

I often read both blogs - but not all the film stuff (sorry)...Guido/Staines does lead people into more serious political issue type things which they might not otherwise have read you know...

edmund said...

A few points

a) Good and restrained post as Sinclair says

b) I think Staines has a very powerful point about that if you worry about people you should adopt minimal government- anarchy is not an achievable dream, minimizing it through indicial liberty and property rights is e.g. ithere might be some vague sense in which being beautfill gives lots of people a “coercive” advantage in relationships- but not as much as they’d be coerced if we fined them for it or taxed them or made them dress less well

c) to monsieur de gallivant I'd say that I’m not sure alas that libertarians always dislike each other less than they dislike sadists see Reason magazine/ Cato’s 's rabid attacks on run Paul and Lee Rockwell and Lee Rockwell’s rabid attacks on them!

d) I actually quite like Matt Yglesias despite disagreeing with him most of the time but I think his an odd choice for an example of the "wonk sphere" his more about personality than this bog- even David Frum for goodness sake would be a better example!

e) I think the previous post about them leading to more serous stuff has a lot in it

James Hamilton said...

A civil post, although I think you are being far too kind.

Yes, Guido is not the same as Staines, but Guido is nevertheless Staines's creation and he is entirely responsible for the Guido persona. As such I'd say that one would be entirely justified in treating them as one and the same. The point is that Staines is capable of, and willing to carry through, Guido, with all that that implies.

Of course, there's an alternative to the "serious and little read" blog,which is the Norm/Harry's Place/Samizdata model: the serious, and widely read blog. But, as the existence of Guido demonstrates, not everyone is capable of that.

Gracchi said...

Ummm lots I agree with- Guido I disagree with you on serious little read blogs- I think there is an advantage to running an actual serious blog. I think that ultimately the pursuit of corruption is rather hopeless because it actually doesn't change people's minds- it even if you agree with Hannah Arendt strengthens the kind of extremists that we all hate.

Perry I'm not an anarcho-capitalist or a libertarian because I don't beleive that they have the answers. As to Yglesias- he seems to be a decent guy, Edmund who is rightwing agrees with me on that which I take as some sort of ascent.

Mutley you are right- I hadn't thought of that- but you are right. You should read the film posts- even better watch the films!

James there are the serious big blogs like Harry's Place etc. I'd say that HP has had a huge effect on politics as did the whole Euston manifesto movement- we've discussed before whether its limiting the left now- but at its time it was something that really was importnat.

Perry de Havilland said...

"Perry I'm not an anarcho-capitalist or a libertarian because I don't beleive that they have the answers."

Well... yeah. I'm not a statist because I don't think statists have the answers (to put it mildly).

As for Yglesias, he and a former contributor to samizdata (Natalija Radic) got into an exchange which permanently coloured my view of him as a self important git who declaims on subjects he has not really bothered to think about. I doubt you care about the details but it all related to the Balkans. For the record it is not his views I particularly have it in for (although granted I don't much like them either), it is him personally who I dislike.

Gracchi said...

Statists- define please? And what defines a state as well whilst you are about it- is a state something that holds coercive power- in which case what kinds of coercive power?

That strikes me as a rather odd description of the variety of people who aren't libertarians. I don't think libertarianism has all the answers for a variety of reasons- mostly because I find the libertarian account of liberty insufficient. I don't think it explains what we mean by freedom and I think libertarians are too interested in the state to understand that there are coercions which go on within civil society which have nothing to do with the state and which the state can actually rescue people from. You see I think libertarians have got a bee in their bonnet about the state- they are more statist in their thinking than any other ideological grouping- and they never really think about the distinction between the state and other coercive bodies within a community or indeed about what coercion means.

Fair enough on the exchange at Samizdata I didn't see it so can't comment.

Perry de Havilland said...

I'll eventually reply to your comment on Samizdata when I have a moment (adds to excessively long 'to do' list).

Gracchi said...

Cool I'd like a good discussion with a libertarian about this kind of stuff: send me an email or leave a comment when you've replied :)