Sunday, 12 February 2023

William Blake - the first libertarian

 By Colin Bower

If South Africans are familiar with the name of the 18th Century British poet and mystic, William Blake (1757 – 1827) , it is likely to be as the author of what is regarded as England’s unofficial anthem, Jerusalem, or possibly as the author of the poem beginning, “Tyger, tyger, burning bright/In the forests of the night.”  In spite of such a cloud of general unknowing, Blake is revered by the literati as one of the greatest social reformers of all time, loved by undergraduates, university faculty and members of the reforming classes as a champion of the weak and the poor and an enemy of the powerful and the rich. But, based on a close study of his most accessible volume of poetry, the 1789 Songs of Innocence and Experience (SoI&E), and drawing on some of his more famous sound bites, I offer a morally anarchic Blake largely indifferent to what we call today social injustice. He was the first libertarian.

But firstly, a note on his poetic project. As the name suggests, Blake draws on the great myth of the existence of a primeval state of innocence lost when the first humans (as it were) became aware of the existence of good and evil, losing thereby their state of innocence. The 45 poems in Blake’s collection are divided between those which characterise the human consciousness as being in a state of innocence, and those which characterise the human consciousness as being in a state of experience. Neither state is right or wrong. The transition from innocence to experience may be reformulated as the transition from unconscious joy to considered virtue. 

Most people in general and FMF members in particular will have a reasonable notion of libertarian values, but, simply as a point of reference, I will highlight these values as follows:

a view of the individual as the sovereign of his or her life, a view that no person has any natural authority over another, a view that regulation is unnecessary and always harmful, a view that freedom is always inherently good, and coercion always bad, a view that virtue lies not so much in doing good as in doing no harm, a belief in the possibility of spontaneous order and, finally,  a general detestation of all arbitrarily imposed authority.

Libertarians abhor the government run state. In Blake’s time people lived mostly under a Church of England social regime, and Blake abhorred the Church of England, as he abhorred all institutional control or power, and he recognised no such thing as a social contract. Most libertarians – although not universally so – are antinomianalists – antinomianism being the extreme position of denying the existence of any universal morality. Blake’s position is yet more extreme, for he can hardly be said to have had a belief in the existence of a moral code at all. He welcomed the existence of evil as a necessary conjunct to the existence of the good, He wrote a poem entitled The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and famously said: “Rather murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires,” and declared that “without contraries, there is no progression,” a dialectic view meaning that there is no progression in the human world without the existence of evil. Blake was – if only nominally – a Christian, and for Christians of any denomination, God is the highest authority. However, the need to respect God’s authority clearly cut no ice with Blake, my evidence for this claim being his poem The Tyger

Let us start at an easy level of analysis. There is not a single instance in the
SoI&E of the vocabulary of outrage over social injustice (begging the question: what is “social injustice”?) or the vocabulary we associate with reforming zeal. You will battle to find any of these words in SoI&E: “exploitation … justice or injustice … class, upper class, aristocracy or elite… hypocrisy … indifference … beat or smack or assault or hurt … slave or slavery … prejudice …  government.” These are strange omissions for a nominal firebrand hostile to social injustice. Instead of holding society to account for human misery, Blake – astoundingly – holds the sufferers to account for their own suffering . Why? Because, in his view, they are complicit in their exploitation by the “system” – complicit because they have at hand the redeeming power of their imagination. Don’t blame me for proposing such a position, it is Blake’s. This is not a literary journal, so I can’t take up reams of space with lengthy quotation from the poems. I’ll have to be content with just a few excerpts, but London is probably the finest of the poems and certainly represents the definitive exposition of his position – bearing in mind the rider that poetry is an artistic endeavour that does not proceed by means of propositional, denotative prose. It exists to be experienced and interpreted. Please take a moment to read and digest these lines, for they are pivotal:

I wander thro' each charter'd street,

Near where the charter'd Thames does flow. 

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,

In every Infants cry of fear,

In every voice: in every ban,

The mind-forg'd manacles I hear 

How the Chimney-sweepers cry

Every blackning Church appalls, 

And the hapless Soldiers sigh

Runs in blood down Palace walls 

But most thro' midnight streets I hear

How the youthful Harlots curse

Blasts the new-born Infants tear 

And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse 

Firstly, we notice the repetition of an unusual word in a poem, “chartered.” It is not only the streets that are chartered, it is also the Thames. Meaning? Certainly “mapped,” suggesting that it is not just the streets that are mapped out, but also the lives of the people living in that mapped out city. But it also means “authorised,” as in “chartered accountant.” The streets are “authorised” into being by the human world, but more astoundingly the Thames is also “mapped” and “authorised.” In nature, rivers flow where they want to, in the human world of the city, the river does as it’s told, it is mapped and authorised, and harnessed by human authority to human purpose. What Blake is not saying is that the physical regimentation represented by the linear order of the city is a symptom of social injustice; a planned environment is as intrinsic to urban life as the weather is intrinsic to rural life, and neither planning nor the weather are symptoms of injustice. Yes, Londoners may be the products of their environment, but this does not mean that they are the victims of it.

 The people that the wanderer (Blake) sees are people whose faces are marked – marked as if branded – by the signs of human failure. But it is their “weakness” that he notices - not their pain, not their smallpox, not their emaciation, not their rags. And then their faces are marked by their “woe,” a timeless condition, not to be confused with – say – sadness or grief, states which can be temporary. The Biblical, “O woe is me” laments a permanent state of misery. 

In the second stanza we encounter the formulation that can serve as the universal Blakean diagnosis of the human condition, “the mind forged manacles.” We create, Blake avers, our own servility and suffering. It is a powerful metaphor: the manacles created in our own minds are as imprisoning and as implacable as steel made on an anvil with heat and percussion.  In this diagnosis he was ahead of his time, for the notion that human achievement is dictated as much by mind control as by physical capability is hardly unusual; it is common cause today among sports scientists and assorted other gurus.

The first two lines of the third stanza may be interpreted as being a condemnation of the church’s indifference to the misery of the sweeper, which we may rightly regard as a shocking symptom of inhumanity. But the accusation is levelled, we must remember, not at the state, but at institutionalised religion which people elect to follow on a voluntary basis. Blake, as an example, exercised his freedom to eschew institutionalised religion. Put bluntly, institutionalised religion, for all its hypocrisy, is not the cause of cruel social conditions. 

The soldier’s life might have been spent in blood shedding, but he is not condemned by Blake as a killer or as an instrument of exploitation. Instead, he is pitied, for his plight is to be “hapless.” It is Blake’s imaginatively-based empathy that is at play here, and his hapless soldier is a far cry from Donovan’s universal soldier complicit in the existence of warfare. Finally, of all the evils faced by Londoners, the worst is not hunger, destitution, alcoholism, exploitation or endless labour, it is the existence of sexually transmitted diseases, and it is STDs that blight – wait for it – “the marriage hearse”, a horrifying oxymoron.

There is another poem that offers a challenging message to a contemporary reader. It is The Chimney Sweeper, from the “Innocence” section of the book. In contemplating it, we need to stop for a moment and contemplate the horror of chimney sweeping, as we all know, undertaken by the smallest and the youngest of children, involving a terrifying confinement, and the possibility of an even more terrifying death by asphyxiation. How does Blake’s ire manifest itself in the face of this abomination? Not in the way you might expect. He blames nobody. Blake describes the help and condolence offered by one little chimney sweep to another. Little Tom Dacre cries when his pretty blonde hair is shaved. His friend says to him: “Never mind it, for when your head’s bare/You know the soot cannot spoil your hair.” This is a bit like comforting a blind man with the good news that he will never suffer from cataracts. The poem ends like this: “Though the morning was cold, Tom was happy and warm/So if all do their duty, they need not fear harm”. This is a lie very difficult for a contemporary reader to swallow. But to be incensed by it is to miss the point. This is human experience viewed through the prism of innocence, and the fact is that Tom was made “happy and warm” by the childlike message of consolation. The point? For Blake, all experience, including the worst horrors that life can throw at a person, are subject to the transcendent power of the human imagination. If you are a victim your recourse lies within, not without. This is not the view of a person who believes in the perfectibility of human life by means of social reform.

Still, one cannot imagine that recourse to the transcendent power of the imagination will be viewed as meaningful relief by the victims of life’s manifold injustices … but bear with Blake for a moment. A fallen world means a world in which evil has an abiding presence. Even if you are a rationalist and a materialist you may be prepared to concede that life can never be universally good, but that, quite on the contrary, it is and will always be universally bad, mitigated only by temporary relief. For Blake, evil is woven into the fabric of life – it is part of God’s plan. Therefore, there is little point in abhorring it, and it is irrational and purposeless to lock yourself into a lifelong campaign to oppose evil in order to banish or even to mitigate it, for it is omnipresent and eternal.  Sharing something of the tradition of stoicism, his “solution” to the problem of evil and injustice is to accept the conditions of life, and to live by the transcendent powers of the imagination (“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour” – I did say that Blake was a mystic).  You may find this position risible, but Blake’s view is shared by Hamlet, who described the ineradicable nature of evil in the world by means of the memorable metaphor: what purpose does it serve to take up arms against a sea of troubles? Milton, in his great work Paradise Lost, failed miserably in his stated intention “to justify the ways of God to men,” precisely because he also could not provide a rational justification for the existence of evil in a divine world. So Blake welcomes the existence of evil. He says: “The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.” As far as Blake is concerned, salvation happens at the personal and individual level, or not at all.

For Blake, there are no virtues in the abstract. Kindness only exists in acts between individual human beings. With a fine disregard for nuance, he proclaims: “To generalise is to be an idiot.  To particularise is the (sic) alone distinction of merit.” Since social science is the science of generalisation, we can quickly see how out of step Blake would be with social science’s claims of universal victimhood. In such a context it will hardly be surprising that, for Blake, institutionalised charity is an anathema. For Blake, the help that we provide to those in need must be spontaneous, personal and private. The institutionalisation of giving turns charity into control, and is dehumanising. This view is most visibly expressed in his two poems both called Holy Thursday. Orphans helped by the church become instruments for the salvation or the self-approbation of the adult agents of the church – typically beadles.  Institutionalised giving instrumentalises virtue, which means that it is hardly virtue at all, and unworthy of the name of charity, and it creates relationships of control of the giver over the recipient. Nearly every South African admires the work of the Gift of the Givers; we may surmise that Blake would not. But – because you are likely to misunderstand Blake based on the portrait I have given of him -  I need to emphasise that he endorses in spiritual terms any act of one-on-one kindness which flows from the heart: “Then cherish pity,” he writes, “lest you drive an angel from your door.”

As far as spontaneous order is concerned, Blake celebrates the governess who ignores the rules and conventions of control in order to allow the children under her care to enjoy their freedom and to play into the evening, when they should be back indoors. It is a dangerous freedom, but Blake takes up the position that freedom always comes with attendant dangers.

Does all this represent a libertarian position? Implicit in his poems is the view that all regulation imprisons and disarms, that nothing worthwhile can flow from any collective, and that the autonomous human being is responsible to himself or herself alone. So let me answer the question this way: Blake and Ayn Rand may be unlikely bed mates, but Blake has more in common with the inventor of objectivism than he does with Tom Paine.

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Insane past, vengeful future

If 2020 was shocking, and 2021 was horrific, then 2022 can be summed up in a single word - insane. 


  • The world descended into wokery like the 16th century descended into witchcraft.  The incidents may have been isolated but their impact was unreasonably large. We looked in the mirror of social media and discovered that we are grotesque.

  • Australia ruined its reputation for decades with its shameful treatment of Novak Djokovic, whose refusal to be vaccinated has been vindicated by a 1000 unexpected athlete deaths. Images of Ozzie police manhandling a young pregnant woman in her home will endure for many years.

  • Justin “Castro” Trudeau  besmirched Canada’s image beyond repair with his handling of the truckers protest and brutal covid tactics. 

  • “Saint” Jacinda Ardern’s zero covid policy was as fatally flawed as China’s. Her “we are the only source of truth” comment put her up there alongside Fauci in the failed megalomaniac stakes.

  • Our worst fears about state intervention in the media turned out to be true, courtesy of Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter.

  • The US January 6th enquiry revealed the range and reach of state surveillance of citizens, and the blue team’s lust for revenge.

  • In the US midterms the “Red wave” turned into a ruddy trickle, a Trumpian nightmare.

  • Under Biden and the blue team the alphabet agencies failed miserably (CDC,FDA,  NIH, CIA, FBI, DOJ, DHS, WHO, Fed)

  • The “safe and effective” mRna vaccines stand as a ghastly monument to an estimated 750,000 vaccine related deaths worldwide, with no end in sight

  • Global warming activists became glueball harming lunatics in a desperate attempt to remain relevant, but are now widely dismissed as the real tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. 

  • Rasputin’s evil twin, DisPutin, finally made his play for immortal infamy on 24th February. A world that we thought could not possibly get stupider, got stupider. In the 2nd month of the 2nd year of the second decade of the 21st century Europeans went back to beating each other to death as a means of settling a virtually meaningless border dispute. Words fail everyone.

  • The James Webb telescope went live in July, allowing scientists to see millions of light years into space. Meanwhile back on earth many scientists still cannot distinguish their covid ass from their global warming elbow.

  • Britain got a new Liz, lost an old one, then 50 days later lost the new one. In the home of democracy, Fishy Rishi Sunak became supreme leader without winning a single vote, impressing even Putin.

  • FTX collapses, bitcoin prices collapse, sales of cargo shorts collapse as Sam Bankman-Fried is finally forced to wear big-boy pants.

  • Having made more money than anyone else on earth, Elon Musk proceeds to lose more money than anyone else on earth

  • Eskom extinguishes any faint glimmer of hope for the South African economy

  • A well-capitalised new banking startup called Ramaphosa’s Sofa has the stuffing knocked out of it. 


2023 will be a year of angry schadenfreude and bitter reckoning for our WEF inspired dear leaders. In 2022 the four horsemen of the apocalypse had their way with us. In 2023 a pale rider will summon up four great reckonings:

  • Responsibility for covid vaccine injuries

  • The cost of green energy policies

  • Debt crisis, inflation and currency collapse

  • Russian collapse following defeats in Ukraine

It's not all doom and gloom:

  • Starship will blast into orbit, albeit with many problems

  • Following the launch of the Tesla cybertruck, Tesla’s share price recovers.

  • Bitcoin begins a steady rise

  • Widespread rioting in China

  • Following revelations in congress, Pfizer files for bankruptcy.

  • Following Eskom grid collapse and non-payment of Sassa grants, widespread rioting across South Africa leads to Cape provincial government approval for a secession referendum

  • Biden’s health deteriorates sharply.

  • Food and energy shortages in the west result in a healthier population

If you can survive, it is, as always, an interesting ride.

Tuesday, 15 November 2022

What is the Individualist Movement Discord server?

The Individualist Movement Discord server gives a home and a voice to those individuals who agree with these ideas. The purpose is  to provide an online venue for thoughtful discussion about the major issues of the day from an individualist and libertarian perspective, as well as a place to hangout, read interesting viewpoints, chat with friends, participate in meetings. 

Think of it as the electronic version of your local pub. 


You are an individual, a nation of one, a unique and wonderful piece of the grand design. You are worthy of respect. Your consent is important. Your property is yours. No one should act against you without your permission.

This is the basis of the Individualist Movement. 

Regrettably, these truths are not self-evident. The forces of collectivism are everywhere in the world, and will triumph if not resisted. This is a war for the hearts and minds of individuals, to be fought with ideas, information and evidence. 

Bad ideas flourish when good ideas are absent. Ideas are only made real when they are written down and shared. The adoption of new ideas by the broader public depends on the accessibility, the appeal and the simplicity of these new thoughts.


The Individualist Movement (IM) was established in June 2018 as a more structured successor to the Libertarian Society. The IM has a website at and a blog at and a whatapp group called Libertarians Group. In 2022 I setup a Slack channel, but Slack proved difficult to install, and has since been replaced by  the Individualist Movement Discord server. 

Discord advantages

  • Discord gives you the ability to get personal with your like-minded community members rather than spamming links at them. 

  • Discord allows unlimited text channels (similar to whatsapp), but with good threading facilities.

  • It has forum channels which facilitate long form debates. 

  • It supports instant messaging, voice channels and good searching.

  • It is quick and easy to install on all platforms.

Using Discord

  1. Rather than wading through a river of often unrelated messages, you can choose the topics that interest you and focus on the subject at hand.

  2. You can group channels into categories to further structure discussions.

  3. If you don’t find a topic that interests you, you can add your own.

  4. You can reply to comments sequentially (like whatsapp) or you can establish a new thread from a comment where you and others engage.

  5. You can attach images and documents to comments, and use limited text formatting. 

  6. You can enliven comments with emojis, gifs and stickers.

  7. You can easily browse other Discord servers of interest, and add them to your menu.

  8. You can even add a new server of your own if the mood takes you.


You have hundreds of social media apps, podcasts, news sources to choose from. Why add one more? 

  1. If you are a South African individualist or libertarian, then this server is tightly focussed on your interests.

  2. You will interact with old and new friends.

  3. It is a safe and secure environment. You won’t be judged for your views by people with nothing in common. You won’t be cancelled or doxed.

  4. You can express your opinions for the benefit of others, and posterity. 

  5. You will see notices of forthcoming events, movement news, projects and initiatives.

  6. You will help promote the ideas of freedom in a collectivist and woke world.


How will history remember you? Is your opinion just hearsay? Is the evidence of your existence uncertain?

If it's not recorded, its rumour. History belongs to the writers, not the victors.

The Individualist Movement Discord server gives you a simple and safe place to record your opinions and to read those of others, in a structured and thoughtful way. Become part of the conversation.  It's free.

To join go to on either your cell or laptop browser and follow the prompts.

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

The Hanseatic Approach

Trevor Watkins 23/11/22

Everybody got the hots for glory. Nobody stopped to scrutinise the plans. Paul Simon

If South Africa was a horse, we would probably shoot it. But it is instead a one horse country, and we have to find a way to save it.   Imminent national collapse looms

We know we cannot continue with the ANC. They actually deserve to be ignored.

The opposition is divided, ineffectual and impotent.  They will not succeed in our lifetimes.

Secession is complicated and unpredictable. At best it will lead to another government populated with self-serving politicians. At worst, it may descend into civil war.

Our future demands a different solution. Fortunately, history provides a useful template.

The Hanseatic League

The Hanseatic League was a mediaeval commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Central and Northern Europe. Growing from a few North German towns in the late 12th century, the League ultimately encompassed nearly 200 settlements across seven modern-day countries; at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries, it stretched from the Netherlands in the west to Russia in the east, and from Estonia in the north to Kraków, Poland in the south. It is generally credited with the widespread peace and prosperity in the regions where it operated

 Echoes of this league continue today in names like Lufthansa and Hansa beer. A New Hanseatic League was established in 2018 involving the countries of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Sweden. 

I propose a solution for South Africa based on the ideas of the Hanseatic League.

The Solution

Any proposed solution should have the following characteristics

  • feasible, practical, affordable

  • constitutional

  • leverages existing South African skills and facilities

  • prioritises peace and prosperity over ideology and race

  • a proven track record of success

Here is a solution that does not:

  • require majority support to work

  • require a coalition of minorities to agree with each other

  • require large scale use of force

  • require massive external funding (IMF or World Bank)

  • require a widespread crackdown on corrupt cadres

  • require a democratic consensus

Here is a solution that 

  • has a history of 400 years of success

  • involves no coercion, corruption or sacrifice

  • resolves the conflicting visions of individuals and communities

  • satisfies both the secessionists and traditionalists

  • requires no dictators, strong leaders, powerful interests

  • serves individual self interests

How will it work?

The Hanseatic League was established by businessmen and merchants to protect their commercial interests. It drew up a charter and elected a council, with limited powers and scope.

Anyone could join if they paid the membership fees, although it mostly targeted cities and guilds. It protected transport of goods by defeating pirates and brigands and fostered safe navigation by building lighthouses. 

In South Africa we have many competent businesses and merchants. We also have many failed municipalities and districts in desperate need of good management.  Let us bypass the whole political morass and establish a commercial organisation similar to the Hanseatic league to service the residents of failing municipalities.  

We could call it the South African Free Trade League (SAFTeL). Its main objective would be to use the power of free trade and commerce to address the many challenges facing South Africa in a non-political way. SAFTeL would have a decentralised, project-based management structure with a small but well-paid executive. 

SAFTeL will give South African businessmen (and citizens) an opportunity to redeem themselves after years of shameful inactivity. It will not be just another business association,  all talk and no action. Rob Herzov’s could provide a useful template.

Initially, SAFTeL would offer management expertise to failing municipalities,  SOE’s and parastatals. It could provide protection and the rule of  law to many mafia-threatened industries. It could privatise the failing services that government at all levels is too incompetent to provide. It could resist the power of unions and special interests. It would protect its members from the depredations of their own government.

South Africa is at the mercy of mafias and cabals. The aim is for SAFTeL to become a bigger and scarier operation than any of the opposing cabals, while remaining within the rule of law.

Fundamental principles 

All members of the league will commit themselves to the following fundamental principles:

  1. Respect all inhabitants equally, regardless of colour, creed, origin, gender.

  2. No one may act against an innocent person or their property without their consent.

  3. Everyone has the right to own and trade justly acquired property

  4. Everyone has a right to be judged by a jury of their peers.

In time SAFTeL would produce a more detailed charter describing its objectives and rules of conduct.

What next? 

  1. Establish a new company called The South African Free Trade League, or SAFTeL.

  2. Produce a charter containing goals, principles, and rules.

  3. Develop facilities (website, DAO platform, treasury)

  4. Develop services (security, legal, arbitration,  trading, banking)

  5. Recruit members.

  6. Recruit clients

  7. Begin trading

Manage failing municipalities

Like the Hanseatic League, SAFTeL could focus on recruiting the residents of failing municipalities. In 2021, 43 of our more than 200 municipalities were ranked as “dysfunctional”, and 111 were “at risk”. While a national disgrace, this does present an interesting business opportunity. 

Managing basic services is not rocket science. Farmers and mines do it with barely a second thought. Privatisation of services is the key.

SAFTeL could 

  • recruit a few engineers and administrators,

  • bypass the failed municipal bureaucracies, 

  • offer services directly to residents for a fee, 

  • provide legal and arbitration support for freezing rates payments

  • provide protection services to deal with any pesky protests

  • Manage tenders from new or existing service providers

In this manner SAFTeL  would assemble a portfolio of towns across the country to rival any political party, completely outside the deeply compromised political process, and probably get a reasonable return on investment in time. It would be a purely commercial operation, non-political, non-racial, legal and constitutional. It might even compete with well-run municipalities on a price basis.

In this fashion many towns and districts could become effectively independent without allegiance to any political party or movement. They would not have to adopt the one-size-fits-all approach advocated by the political parties and secession movements.The SAFTeL charter would provide support for businesses, reduced regulation, protection, while respecting local community interests and traditions. This is how it worked for 400 years in the Hanseatic League.

Other possibilities

If  SAFTeL is successful, it could consider taking on other failed government projects. 

For example, the Airports Company of South Africa (ACSA) does a poor job of managing this vital airport infrastructure. SAFTeL could spin off a company to buy these airports from ACSA and make money by doing a better job. 

Public rail (PRASA) and the ports (PORTNET) are similar failed enterprises that might benefit from management by more commercial interests.


Many people seem to think that the same people who caused South Africa’s problems, namely politicians, are the only ones who can fix these problems. This article describes how business and commercial interests could do a far better job, much as they did in Europe for 400 years. 

Economic freedom is the key to our future.


Works Cited

“Hanseatic League.” Wikipedia, Accessed 2 November 2022.

Simpson, Storm. “Ranked: These are the 43 worst municipalities in South Africa.” South African, 26 October 2021, Accessed 2 November 2022.

William Blake - the first libertarian

  By Colin Bower If South Africans are familiar with the name of the 18 th Century British poet and mystic, William Blake (1757 – 1827) , i...