There a few people in the world of libertarianism that require as little an introduction as Brian Micklethwait. As somebody who has been involved in promoting the cause of liberty for a rather long time there is no wonder that when he speaks, people listen.
Brian began his talk with a short exhibition of different books written by libertarians. Including Tom G Parker, Innes Bowen, Alex Singleton and Dominic Frisby. This is one of the great things about listening to Brian, he is an enthusiastic promoter of not just his own ideas but of the British libertarian community. An idea that we would do well to adopt if we are to move forward.
After this impromptu book review, Brian began his talk with the assertion that the libertarian movement is alright. A surprising and welcome vote of confidence given the small number of libertarians in the UK.
When did the libertarian movement begin?
The first point Brian made was that libertarianism in Britain has deep roots. All the way back to the seventeenth century in fact. His reasoning for this is that although many later thinkers of the Enlightenment eschewed the levellers as somewhat embarrassing zealots their ideas this was a mistake. There are many reasons for this. The first being that the questions that people in the seventeenth century were trying to answer were profoundly different to the sorts of questions we are asking now. Whereas in modern Britain we are trying to figure out how much power should the state have, the levellers were preoccupied with the conundrum of ‘who should the state be comprised of’. This profound difference along with the role religion played in that era make it seem distant and incomprehensible but it is not.
Brian went on to say that the ideas of the Levellers came to fruition during the Industrial Revolution. The concept that one has property, and It can be used as the individual sees fit was not invented by the industrialists of the nineteenth century, they inherited an already old and noble tradition.
History aside, Brian makes an important point here. Libertarianism is an ideological tradition that stretches far back and has greatly improved society. He brings us up to the present day by saying that somewhere in the early 1960s Marxists stopped believing in progress. Instead, they opted for environmentalism and anti-consumerism. Libertarians are still arguing the case for progress hundreds of years after the smoke began to rise out of Brian’s factories.
How to do libertarianism
Brian’s second point is that in order to do libertarianism well we must avoid the pitfall of ‘we must’. In order to make the movement progress, we should understand that our morals are not for somebody else to follow, but for ourselves. The focus should be on how we plan to make libertarianism better. These combined acts of devotion to the libertarian cause make more of an impact than simply commanding other activists to do as you wish.
He also makes a point about the shape of British Libertarianism. Brian is a decidedly ‘big tent’ libertarian. Willing to embrace others who do not subscribe to his own particular worldview. Having had the opportunity to speak to Brian on many occasion, I know he is not somebody that shies away from expressing an opinion. Yet there is a certain ethos of ‘stop blabbering and just get on with it’ that is rather refreshing.
Ultimately Brain’s talk ended on an uplifting note. He stressed that people should at least enjoy themselves while doing libertarian things. Although applying yourself is important, ploughing all of your life savings into founding a radical anarcho-capitalist magazine and then complaining endlessly when it goes bust after three issues is not going to help the cause of other libertarians. Brian makes the important distinction between bread and babies; bread, when sliced into smaller parts, is still valuable. Whereas babies that are sliced into small chunks are not so valuable…
Essentially make sure that your long-term goals are divisible and achievable by small individual acts. Rather than investing your time and energy on a once in a lifetime splurge. And you might as well have fun while you are doing it!