Free enterprise vs. free country

The urge to worship has to be natural to man, for otherwise it would be impossible to explain its constant presence everywhere throughout history.

However, if the need to worship remains immutable, the object of worship changes. For the first, say, 1,500 years after Constantine became the first baptised Roman emperor, Westerners worshipped Christ.

This was accepted as the absolute truth, and any kind of relativism was robustly, sometimes violently, discouraged. That worship was taken for granted, as was the dogma that channelled the natural urge into proper conduits.

Westerners believed, and the dogma taught them what it was exactly that they believed, and how their faith ought to be expressed and practised.

However, in the subsequent couple of centuries Christ was gradually marginalised until for most people his religion became a matter of antiquarian interest only.

Secular bliss arrived, and Westerners, en masse, no longer believed in anything divine. However, the urge to worship didn’t disappear – it was shifted to other, profane, areas.

Neither did the mechanism of worship disappear: old habits and all that. Profane and numerous as the new idols might have been, each was still raised to the absolute to sit at the top of the totem pole until dislodged by a successor or a competitor.

Though it was reasonably clear that the profane idols lacked absolute grandeur, human nature attached to them quasi-absolute dogmatic certainty.

Hence one can observe dogmatic Marxism, Freudianism, Darwinism and any number of other isms, each accepted as inviolable truth until debunked – or not even then.

Not all new idols were as objectionable as those I’ve mentioned. Some, such as economic libertarianism, are quite nice and heart-warming. And, unlike Christianity, the truth of free enterprise requires neither theology nor philosophy nor indeed an intermediary to grasp.

All it takes is a look around, which will show that, by and large, the greater the nation’s economic freedom, the greater and more widespread the nation’s prosperity. For example, Britain became a much wealthier country after her economy was liberalised following the 1846 repeal of the Corn Laws.

So far so good. Marxists thought they saw the truth even though they couldn’t prove it; economic libertarians saw the truth and actually could prove it.

And because they could prove it, both intellectually and empirically, they, as people tend to do, elevated it to the level of dogma. That was a mistake.

For no quotidian practice deserves such elevation. Unlike Christianity, none of them can be absolute truth. They all don’t just permit but positively demand numerous relativities; each of them can be superseded by higher considerations.

This ought to be kept in mind when we look at the current debacle involving GKN, our great engineering and R&D firm going back to Napoleonic times. This mainstay of British ingenuity is under attack from the asset-stripping hedge fund Melrose.

Melrose has amassed about 25 per cent of GKN’s shares and now wishes to acquire the company, break it up into pieces, flog the saleable ones to the highest bidders, most of them foreign, and shut down the rest.

How many of GKN’s 58,000 employees will lose their jobs and pensions as a result is anyone’s guess. I’d say most, if the experience of other such takeovers is anything to go by. That’s obviously a problem; for many employees it’s a tragedy.

But the issue is even wider than that. For GKN isn’t just any old engineering company. It’s actively involved in the defence and aerospace industries, which makes it strategically vital to the country at large.

If Britain is to stand on her own two legs, as she will after the Brexit charade finally comes to an end and the country becomes independent again, then she has to be as strategically self-sufficient as our global world will allow.

For that reason, for example, I deplore the fact that the French concern EDF is our second-largest energy supplier. Energy is a crucial strategic reserve, and a country can never remain a great independent power if she depends on foreign powers for much of its supply.

France may be our ally now, but things may change a couple of years from now – as they did in 1940. France was our staunchest ally, and then it became part of our deadliest enemy. I’m not suggesting that the same situation can arise now, but it’s suicidal not to provide for all eventualities.

GKN is another strategic reserve, and it’s entirely possible that the long-term R&D projects for which the company is known may one day save Britain’s freedom.

The conclusion seems to be clear: the government must step in and prevent GKN from the asset strip show. Yet the government in general, and Business Secretary Greg Clark in particular, have so far done nothing.

The government is Tory and it has to pretend that it lives or dies by the dogma of free enterprise – much as it violates it with alacrity whenever the state stands to benefit. GKN’s management wishes to sell (to divide something like a quarter billion pounds among them), Melrose wishes to buy – the God of Economic Liberty is being served.

Except that it isn’t a real God, “than which nothing greater can be thought”. Higher deities exist, such as the country’s freedom that could be under threat should this obscene trade be allowed to go through.

I’m in general opposed to state interference in the economy – except when it’s absolutely necessary. It is now, and I hope Britain isn’t sacrificed at the altar of this relativist deity and its relentless dogma.

5 thoughts on “Free enterprise vs. free country”

  1. Indeed, man needs God, whether he exists or not is the rub.
    I type this using a Sony laptop computer, a device which simply would not exist without free-markets. Brilliant products, but it hasn’t in my case annulled the desire for a real deity.

  2. Whilst I agree with the thrust of this article (another, very interesting read), that government should, in this case, step in to save a vital strategic asset, I think that it would be treating a symptom rather than a cause.

    In my view, the cause is progressive corporatism which creates ‘too big to fail’, political partner, behemoths like GKN, BAE et al. In the middle of the last century, the UK had many, small, competing defence companies (Supermarine, Hawker, Armstrong Siddeley, Avro, Vickers, Lee Enfield, Leyland…the list goes on). If any one of these ‘failed’, then the consequences, for employees and customer alike weren’t nearly so damaging.

    No market can ever be totally ‘free’, but regulating it so that as much competition, at as local a level as possible exists (remember The Monopolies Commission?) always struck me as the best way forward. It’s why the privatisation of the telecoms industry was largely successful, whilst the privatisation of the railways and utility companies has been a dog’s breakfast.

  3. “Westerners, en masse, no longer believed in anything divine. ”

    Materialism and sports. The two gods of modern man.

  4. “Marxism, Freudianism, Darwinism and any number of other isms, each accepted as inviolable truth until debunked ”

    Three of the four persons that have most influenced modern thought. Marx, Freud, Darwin. Einstein the fourth.

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