Who is in? Who is out?

When it comes to deciding who it is one wants to work with, my gut reaction is to be as inclusive as possible. Ideology is an essential part of this decision, but I do not simply draw a strict philosophical line and then reject as allies everyone on the “wrong” side of it.

Rather, I think co-operation is better evaluated with reference to the external perception of the action undertaken. I’ve never been invited to sign a joint letter, but I would wonder how many letter could get published and does the text recognise a plurality of opinion? Can I feasibly achieve anything alone rather than with the group? In that case a separate letter is generally going to be feasible, but for something like a petition – which only makes an impact if it reaches large numbers – joining in is more likely to be the better option.

Do I go and swell the ranks of a Union and SWP sponsored protest march? I would be sympathetic but uncomfortable with that because buried within those ranks I would be merely counted with the organisers’ tribe, lending sanction and power to that tribe. Unfortunately, I think that despite the success of the scientific method many people do still follow the ideas that are popular and end up opting into intellectual package deals promoted by one tribe or another. A new tribe is able to cause a reevaluation of intellectual allegiance in the people that notice it, but an existing tribe that is swelled by the ranks of smaller tribes reinforces the larger tribe and prevents reevaluation.

On Syria, you lot were relatively strict on your exclusion of Paul Staines as “not a libertarian” if he supported intervention, and you gave Perry de Havilland a hard time when he talked about his experiences in Bosnia (and he was opposed to intevention in Syria). These are people who helped bring me, and I’m sure thousands others, into the libertarian tent. Words are shifty things, but even if “libertarian” can no longer be a proper label for their beliefs (notably, Perry doesn’t like it) I don’t think it is possible to say they are not part of the larger scene. Richard Elliot, at The Backbencher (which seemed to get your ideological seal of approval) analyses which parts of the historical tradition oppose interventions and which endorse it:

my contention is that military intervention, depending on where one’s own libertarian principles are derived from philosophically, is not ruled out de facto as a non-libertarian position.

He concluded, essentially, that classical liberals logically might support intervention, and still be part of the historic tradition. Critically rational individualism, classic liberalism, objectivism, minarchism and anarcho-capitalism are also part of that scene, like it or not. This is less to do with what ideas and concepts correctly carry that word, than who the people are that choose to spend their lives promoting similar ideas and concepts. Some of those folks are disposed towards foreign interventions, and they have a whole bunch of other views you may not agree with as well.

Does war have a special status, on account of its hideous consequences, that means co-operation with pro-interventionists is off on, for example, drug legalisation? or any other issue? I think that ignores the serious consequences of those other issues. I picked drug legalisation as an example because the Mexican war on drugs has claimed roughly the same number of lives as the Syrian civil war. If someone is pro-drug legalisation and pro-humanitarian intervention are you going to ostracise them on account of the consequences of one of their beliefs? This is a nonsensical approach; their other beliefs and the opportunities their co-operation entails have value separate from any potential negatives. Are you going to try to net off the body counts? What about property losses? Trying to work out how to divide people up will only result in unecessary division.

I want Libertarian Home to be a platform for constant activism on the topics that unite us, while putting individual libertarians in complete control of how that happens. That’s why the recent website redesign dedicated the first, and most graphically alluring, 300 pixels to specific messages about specific ideas to do things; things involving people who are not even sightly libertarian, such as your MP. In order for those things to work people must feel able to support them. I hope that making this a “libertarian” homepage is enough that you feel encouraged to take part in those things from time to time, but it does not make sense to first reject and ostracise half of the libertarian community before asking the rump for help. A broadly defined community will be more numerous and a campaigning website that welcomes all of the different schools of thought will be more effective.



  1. “When it comes to deciding who it is one wants to work with, my gut reaction is to be as inclusive as possible. Ideology is an essential part of this decision, but I do not simply draw a strict philosophical line and then reject as allies everyone on the “wrong” side of it.”

    Don’t draw a line based on position then, draw a line based on character and objectives. Some people are out there drawing people into libertarianism and pulling in our direction, others are working towards the opposite. Some are piggybacking on libertarianism to give them a launchpad or cover story for their evil schemes. The best way I know to tell the difference is watch whether they become more or less libertarian over time: the well-intentioned people only become more libertarian. (Incidentally this effect happens in reverse for socialists as they gradually realize that socialism is insane).



  2. I do not simply draw a strict philosophical line and then reject as allies everyone on the “wrong” side of it.

    The problem is that libertarianism, as RWH points out above, is a convenient cloak for the more self-aware “little Englanders” who know, deep down, that their instinctive nationalism is irrational. When they try to put the libertarian cloak on it is important to mention the philosophical flaws in their arguments and stand on principle.

    Intervention in Syria is wrong on so many levels and we need to clearly state that.



  3. I think two things are getting mixed up here.

    The first is campaigning on particular issues. In this case, one must forge alliances where one can. In terms of opposition to war, one finds conservatives, lefties and libertarians usually are on the same side of such matters, no doubt for varying reasons.

    The second is arguing about libertarianism. To what extent such arguments are worthwhile, if someone calls himself a libertarian, he should be prepared to defend his position in libertarian terms, and here the matter is to seek a rational and consistent position.

    I am currently pondering such an issue from the Lib Home meeting on Thursday, where I defended the legal prohibition of cannibalism. My task is to see whether and how I can construct a libertarian defence of my view. There are some who will complain that pondering such obscure issues is exactly the reason libertarians are marginal to the political mainstream, to which I would reply; lighten up, it’s only a pub conversation.

    Libertarians are often attacked by the use of strawmen. These strawmen either misrepresent the libertarian view, for instance portraying libertarians as being against social co-operation, when in fact we are all for it, being as it is by definition voluntary, or they take the views of someone who is libertarian on some matters but not others, and attribute the non-libertarian views of such a person to libertarians in general. This is usually the case with someone like Paul Staines, who (I don’t really follow him, so I’m assuming) talks a good libertarian game on tax, but then goes all statist on bombing other countries. Such strawmen should be countered, so that people who are less familiar with libertarianism understand what the philosophy stands for.

    It is also a case that some libertarians, although they are consistent, associate other views they hold (or others do it for them) with libertarianism, which although compatible, are not in themselves libertarian. This seems to be the case sometimes with libertarian atheists.

    It should be noted that many people are partly libertarian. There are many people who oppose drug prohibition who would not call themselves libertarian, and who are not against a large state interfering in other parts of the private sphere. The task of libertarians with regard to such people (i.e. the general, non-libertarian public) is two-fold, corresponding to the two points above: firstly to forge political alliances on particular issues, and secondly to try to build upon their libertarian instincts in whatever issue is applicable, so that they follow this logic to becoming more consistently libertarian, or failing this at least better understand the libertarian point of view.

    Libertarians are a broad church, but libertarianism has a definition, it is not infinitely malleable. We must balance the desire for establishing consistent, rational views with avoiding ‘no true Scotsman’ obscurantism, and we must certainly true to forge alliances outside our little pond.

    Whether that helps you decided, Simon, to go or not to go amongst the Socialist Workers, I dare not presume.



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