Steve Baker was tonight’s after dinner speaker at the Liberty League conference. I live tweeted this at the time despite an injunction to “please don’t tweet everything I say”.
As you may have gathered, the speech was as an excellent if slightly flawed piece of public speaking. It was inspiring and peppered with practical advice about how to live your life if the authoritarian culture we live in bothers you. He implored us to know our philosophy, to be proud and confident of our beliefs and to be intellectual leaders. Above all, he reminded us that we are the good guys and it isn’t right for us to end up miserable.
Things started to turn sour when he rejected Ayn Rand and began to make humorous digs at students of Objectivism. I am quite prepared for people to disagree with my preferred philosophical outlook and my own support for Ayn Rand in particular is heavily qualified. In fact I had been dealing with such criticism throughout the dinner. A theme was that Ayn Rand had a great many personal views on music and sexuality that do not necessarily follow from her own core premises and that these have been sorted out quite straightforwardly within the movement. A case in point is her view on homosexuality, which is so clearly in the realm of the optional ( mere preference) that homosexuals have no problem earning a position of prominence in the movement.
I did find that a speech that rejects your specific views delivered with vigour to the whole assembled audience is somewhat alienating. From the moment those jokes were delivered I was on alert for errors from the speaker, no longer ready to simply enjoy it. I didn’t have to wait long to spot problems.
Steve’s next argument was to disparage the idea that people cannot morally make a claim on your life. He seemed to view this as cold and therefore as impractical. He said the logic is impeccable but said that a practicing politician cannot make that case, that they would be unelectable. Francisco’s money speech was ringing in my ears.
Given that the rest of Steve Baker’s speech was so principled and brave this compromise was a shock to say that least.
He might be misinformed (or tactically ignorant) but the injunction against claims upon the lives of others is Rand’s reformulation of the principle of Self Ownership, the moral principle which underpins every libertarian political policy. By explicitly endorsing compromise on this principle Mr Baker can only be, can only act, like an unprincipled politician or like a Tory. He’s rejected the most important libertarian principle publicly and explicitly.
The speech wound itself up for a killer conclusion. We were invited to keep one last piece of advice in mind: don’t give in to evil.
Great advice, Mr Baker, the only shame is that you have just given in yourself.