Free Association

Ever since the Libertarian Party collapsed amid much rancor and passion at the centre and an equal amount of head-scratching amongst the ordinary members, those of us libertarians who have been meeting in Southwark, under the auspices of the Party but never limited to Party members, being open to all-comers, have been pondering; what are we going to do now?

Presuming that we have not had a change of heart or mind with regard to the principles which led us to seek out other like-minded souls, and that notwithstanding our diverse views on a host of issues, we share a unifying belief in the central virtue of liberty, and a desire to further the principles we hold dear in this country of ours and the society we live in, it would be a shame to abandon the start we have made, humble though it no doubt is, to build something new within the libertarian movement.

The ultimate goal of such a movement must be to bring about a libertarian society. Although we will differ in our vision of that ‘New Jerusalem’, our task in the here and now, I would say, is to struggle in support of everything that makes our society more libertarian and against everything that makes it less so. After a century that has witnessed an unparalleled growth in state power, a massive increase in bureaucratic regulation of all aspects of life, and the virtual overthrow of sound and well-established economic principles, we are not short of causes to champion nor targets to assail.

The Libertarian Party was formed to raise a standard to rally around. It was a means to an end, not an end in itself. Certainly, it was to provide a vehicle for candidates to challenge in elections, but even electoral success would only be a step towards the ultimate goal stated above – a libertarian society.

That vehicle – the Party – is at present stalled in a ditch. If it can be rescued it may yet serve a purpose, but we cannot rest idle in the meantime, there is work to be done.

A political party can do some things, and it can’t do others. A non-party association likewise has advantages and disadvantages. Given the country’s electoral system, the nagging fear of futility could never be wholly banished from the enterprise of attempting to establish a new party. A brief perusal of the register held by the Electoral Commission reveals a Kyper Belt of every political hue beyond the gas giants of Labour, Tory and Lib Dem. Closest to many of us amongst the lesser political planets is UKIP, which has still not achieved one seat in the House of Commons, notwithstanding the broad antagonism towards EU membership amongst the voters.

Certainly the possibility of a Libertarian Party rising swiftly to prominence exists – hope springs eternal, after all – but it is also possible, and not mutually exclusive, that a better strategy for libertarians lies in political action outside the structure of party politics, through campaigning on diverse issues and joining forces with like-minded people of whatever party or none.

Therefore I propose that a new Association be formed, open to all who share our common principles, including those who are members of political parties.

The purpose would to continue the social aspect of meeting other libertarians, the importance of which should not be overlooked, but also to act as a catalyst for political action and to develop links between other existing organisations to further libertarianism as a movement.

At this stage (writing as the first and only member!) it would be unwise to plan too far ahead, or to be overly precise in what the Association should be and should do. What is required is a handful of people willing to sit down and agree a statement of principles, which will be the foundation stone for this new Association.

As libertarians, we believe in voluntarism. So, brethren, sistren, what do you say?

  13 comments for “Free Association

  1. Oct 9, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Richard. I know you are someone who dislikes establishment and bureaucracy. I’d like to challenge the notion that we need to create a new one of our own. What is an Association that our beer fuelled camaraderie is not?

    For me, the answer, the USP of a new institution is the ability to handle money and employ staff, so that we can divide our labour and work at the scale which the division of labour makes possible.

    Is that a part of this plan?

    • Oct 9, 2011 at 11:30 am

      I think we should get the wigwam up before we start laying the foundations for the cathedral 🙂

  2. James
    Oct 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm

    Wow… When did this place pop up? I only went looking for the old LPUK site (turns out they’ve diversified in to the UPVC glazing market) to see what was happening with them and hit across LibertarianHome in the results!

    Having flirted with the idea of joining LPUK a couple of years ago, I decided not to – nobody ever replied to my membership queries. Then, when I saw all the shenanigans that had gone on… that was it. I’m not particularly up to speed on what’s happened since. Is there a movement of former members?

    I have political campaign experience: I’m still keen to help libertarians get elected, whether they’re on a ‘Libertarian’ platform or some other.

    I would ask, though – for any party that could rise from the ashes, would having ‘Libertarian’ in the name hinder more than help?

    The Conservatives are going through a brand crisis in Scotland (arguably, they’ve been going through one for decades, before Thatcher came along), to the point where they might go it alone under a different name. What does the word ‘libertarian’ mean to voters and potential supporters? How does it meet with their aspirations and desires?

    Like many other liberals and libertarians, I abhor the misuse of the word ‘liberal’, but I accept that the public have a different idea of what the word means. In much the same way, I see ‘libertarian’ used pejoratively, whether it’s in newspaper columns or political leaflets. There’s time to recapture the meaning of the word later, when libertarians have a platform to stand on!

    Anyway, I’m rambling now… I look forward to reading a few more posts and comments here! Good luck with it!

    • Oct 18, 2011 at 9:49 pm

      Thanks for your good wishes. I can’t speak for the nation as a whole, but the London people are still meeting up, so feel free to attend if you’re in the environs.

      As for the name of a future party, I think you may be right. In any case, and this is my view and not shared by all, I think the priority now is outside party politics.

      • James
        Oct 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm

        Unfortunately, London’s a bit of a way away for me, but I know that there was an LPUK group that met in my region: I’m sure they won’t have disbanded.

        In the meantime, I thought this guy was pretty much on the money with how a libertarian party focused on electoral success needs to be positioned:

        Naturally, there will be libertarians who won’t want to compromise on policy or philosophy, such is the challenge of trying to pull together a fledgling political party. Perhaps also a good reason not to carry on the ‘libertarian’ name in any future party.

        • Oct 19, 2011 at 7:21 pm

          You can read my comments on that thread under my nom de plume. At the time, I thought it was premature to give up on the party, and was annoyed that everyone seemed to be exerting more energy washing their hands of the whole thing that they’d ever exerted as members. However, the efforts to get the party back on track came to nothing, and I came to the conclusion that the party constitution was fatally flawed, so I guess I arrived at the same conclusion somewhat later than many others.

          As for compromising, I think that it’s worth considering Rothbard’s view in “What is to be done”, in which he borrows a little analysis from Lenin, of all people, discussing the two ways you can go wrong: on the one side; sectarianism, where everyone plays ‘holier than thou’ and never do anything; on the other; opportunism, where people sell out for a little taste of influence.

          The idea is to be true to the longterm goal, and support interim measures, as long as they do not contradict the longterm goal.

          • James
            Oct 19, 2011 at 10:22 pm

            I’d broadly agree with that. I think the important point is about ‘baby steps’ and trying to build trust with the public and bring them along with us.

            As libertarians, we can’t get there by staking out our position as “we’ll abolish the NHS and sell off the BBC!”. They’re ideas that are anathema to many and requires a lot of thought and imagination to accept how policies like that could work.

            Personally, I’ve always wondered how, as someone who’s considered running as a council candidate in the past, how I could reconcile my own politics and philosophy with those of the people I’d want to represent. In the end, I concluded that I would seek to take a libertarian approach to finding solutions to problems within the framework of the public’s values.

            There’s really not much that can be done at local authority level, but libertarians could show themselves to be strong on issues of transparency, value for money and red tape – all issues that can be found at the heart of many voters’ gripes.

          • Oct 25, 2011 at 10:13 am

            I agree, but I’d add that be should be fighting a moral war in parrallel, to change peoples attitude toward state intervention.

            This is why Steve Baker’s speech annoyed me, he’d rejected a key moral premise in order to fight his war on consequentialist grounds alone. It seems inevitable that by doing that your actions will begin to contradict the long term goal.

          • James
            Oct 26, 2011 at 12:00 am

            Absolutely. It’s right that we should advance moral arguments and concerns and not be afraid to fight on those terms – but I would caveat that with there being a right time and place (and even an audience). We should be adept at positing the best arguments available to us in our arsenal of political weaponry. Sometimes that will be social, sometimes it will be economic, sometimes it will be pragmatic (or consequential) and sometimes it will be moral.

            I haven’t seen the Steve Baker speech, so I can’t really respond to your concern about him. I suspect that his primary instinct as a politician who ultimately has a constituency to answer to is to put forward the consequentialist arguments first. I’ve experienced elected representatives who make sound arguments in private, but wouldn’t dare to utter them publicly, for obvious reasons.
            I like Baker and take him at his word, so I hope his slip-up for you doesn’t taint him too much in the long term!

            Changing the subject slightly – did anybody in LPUK have campaigning experience with any of the main parties?

  3. Oct 27, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    “did anybody in LPUK have campaigning experience with any of the main parties?”

    Gavin Webb did, and I think others.

    • Oct 31, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      Greg Beaman springs to mind.

  4. Runcie Balspune
    Nov 6, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    My own opinion is that the concept of a “political party” is an affront to libertarianism, when applied to current British politics, it is precisely the opposite of individualistic political ambition.

    You should operate as a cross-party movement, in the same vein the Co-operative Party operates (but not restricted to one party or political agenda).

    The Model Parliament system was corrupted when party politics started to dominate it. Libertarianism needs to rise up and loosen the tight grip the party system has on electioneering, and this isn’t going to be done by creating yet another political party.

    The current parliament is full of carpetbaggers who share only a tiny selection of their personal politics with those of the party banner they march under, there may well be those on all sides who are only in it because of the overwhelming partisan attitude and aren’t really con-men, these are your direct appeals.

    By making it a movement, anyone can pin their colours to the mast, without having to compromise their political party affiliations too much.

    One day we can return to the original principles of a Modal Parliament, abolish separatist political parties and concentrate on true democratic representation by the individual for the individual, get rid of the stupid and irrational football team mentality that pervades government (which will hopefully be somewhat smaller in the future).

    • Nov 6, 2011 at 2:49 pm

      There is nothing inherently wrong in forming a party. In a libertarian case, naturally the ability or desire to impose a party line will be largely absent, but as a necessarily voluntary group it can still function as a party, co-ordinating action etc. It may be a bad idea for a lot of reasons, such as those you give, but surely not an affront.

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