Video: Libertarianism is not simple to argue for

After a record short wait, the latest video from the Rose and Crown meetup is online. I would like to claim that my effectiveness at video editing has greatly improved, or that the talk required less encoding time than other talks or less editing, but the real reason was that I did it while off sick with a sore gut. Woe is me, but the rewards are yours:

Brian prefixed his talk with the warning that he wasn’t sure that it was worth listening to, or why it was worth a listen, but by the end the value of his message was abundantly clear: since libertarianism is so very hard to argue for, consider another approach. Don’t argue for it, but instead explain what it is and focus instead on building the libertarian community. Having an explaination and a label for the theory and basic policy directions is enough to raise up the flag and gather together all the people that already agree with them. This is surprisingly useful, he argued, becuase it will help to develop the talents that can take on the detailed work of bringing libertarianism to the detailed areas.

He gave an example of James Tooley, a visitor to some the the earliest libertarian meetups in Brian’s own home who now researches the work of private enterprise in bringing education to the very poorest people in the world, an example of a detailed policy area that needs to be explored to address the second “arguing for it” phase.

That word “phase” was not Brian’s but was rather introduced into the Q&A by regular meetup participant James Rigby who, with Richard Carey, floated the Pro-Liberty Party at the meetup in September. The fact that that earlier launch happened does tend to prove Brian’s point about developing the community, but James’ point brought a new dimension to the evening for me.

Perhaps it is true that a focus on defining the movement is sufficient to grow it, at the moment, but there will come a second “phase” when the movement has grown to it’s natural maximum and action is required to expand it’s potential; to grow beyond natural libertarians. That phase will be much harder, take much more time, will require much more specialist knowledge, it’s more likely to be a career than a hobby and if’s a hobby then you will be lucky to die having completed your small part of it. Fortunately the two phases are, I think, already happening in parrallel at different ends of the battle front.

If there is one thing to take away from Brian’s talk it’s this: know that there is a variety of different ways to fight for liberty and choose your targets according to your strengths.


  1. Simon:

    Many thanks for the video and for the speed with which you stuck it up here. I hope you feel better now, rather than worse.

    However I fear that while giving my talk, I enjoyed myself too much, and clarified – in particular organised – my message badly. In my defence, I meant what I said about how I was taking a chance talking about this, that I had never talked about this topic in public before, and that, well, I’d not necessarily get it all right.

    I entirely agree with you that merely describing libertarianism is now, and in fact always was, insufficient. Such a tactic was only ever a valuable part of the mix. I and my libertarian friends in the past did this because it was a particular bit of the whole job that we thought was being neglected. And we are now way beyond the point where merely banging away about what libertarianism is will suffice for the task we all now face.

    The purpose of all the autobiography was not to recommend simplicity, and certainly not only simplicity, but to further emphasise how complicated arguing for libertarianism necessarily is. The last thing I would do is recommend that people with the taste for arguing this or that item of libertarian policy or philosophy, or wanting to insert libertarianism into party politics, should stop this and merely bang away with yet another summary of what libertarianism merely is.

    If I ever do this talk again, I will put the autobiographical stuff in the middle, and the other stuff about how complicated it necessarily is to argue for libertarianism at the end.

    Please undertand that I am not complaining about your description of my talk. I fear it is all too accurate.

    Despite all these reservations, thanks again. Meetings like this help speakers to get to grips with new subjects. I have certainly learned a lot from giving this talk, if only about how I might have done it much better.



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