It Is Up To Libertarians To Make the Case for Freedom

Last week we have seen the true scale of Labour’s left wing agenda. If you take a step outside of your front door and listen carefully, you can almost hear the sound of the Overton window shifting in an alarming direction. For good reason news pundits have started talking about a ‘battle of ideas.’ Just some of the policies that Jeremy Corbyn and his allies seek to impose include; renationalising the railways, creating thousands of ‘green’ jobs and thirty hours of free childcare for struggling families.

I remember reading through the Labour party manifesto for the 2016 general election and thinking to myself “this isn’t really that radical.” But this time is different. At the heart of the Labour party’s new approach is the understanding that capitalism has failed and it’s time for something new.

The 2010s have been a decade of important political landmarks. The 2018 Labour conference could well be one of them. We must not forget that unlike many previous Labour party leaders Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnel are committed socialists. Although I enjoy reading his articles, I disagree with journalist Paul Mason when he says “this is probably the furthest left Labour will go.” In my view we will not really see the Corbyn-McDonnel axis go full radical until their second term.

If there is one thing you can count on in these turbulent times it is that the Conservative party will offer absolutely nothing to stem the tide of big statist politics. As will be amply displayed at the Conservative party conference this week the Tories will be discussing little else besides Brexit. To be fair to Theresa May, like David Cameron before her she has never really been a ‘big vision’ kind of politician. So it is rather silly of us to expect her to come out with some inspiring raise on detra at this stage.

It would appear that the real battle of ideas then is taking place between the socialist left and a chauvinist populist right. To address this there have been frantic calls on the Conservative fringes for some kind of unifying message. But here is an inherent weakness for the Tories.  Unlike the Labour party which has a large activist membership that can inject some life into party policy. The Conservative party is a slick election winning machine. It is run in a very top down way and is almost engineered to stop party radicals from rising up through the ranks. This is great in times when the status quo prevails. Yet, when demand for radical change begins bubbling the Conservatives struggle to adapt. Harold Macmillain’s government in the 1950s springs to mind.

It is clear (at least to me anyway) that one of the real casualties of this new political alignment will be liberalism. There is little evidence to suggest that the Conservative party will remain the supposed party of free enterprise. In fact, any inclination Conservative firebrands have to champion individual freedom will be diluted by their need to placate the chauvinist current that has gripped most western democracies  even if the UK doesn’t go full Donald Trump.

We must also remember that age has become a defining feature of our political landscape. The Tories are increasingly the party of the old, and Labour the party of the young.  This drastically limits any room the Conservatives may have to experiment with ideas because they will always need to bear in mind that their core voters are almost all over 50.

One thing that I genuinely believe political commentators have gotten wrong recently is the emphasis they place on capitalism being out of fashion. On the face of it this makes sense. The radical left and the alt-right share much common ground here. However, I feel that it would be more accurate to say that a large numbers of people are frustrated at the twin pressures of being torn apart by cultural and economic whirlwind while the political system remains in a grim stasis.

The challenges that we currently face as a society are substantial and they are getting worse. Wages have remained stagnant in Britain since the 2008 financial crash while inflation quietly bites,  getting on in life an moving up the career ladder have become extremely difficult and we are currently living through a cultural maelstrom (for the better in my opinion…mostly). If we consider that these are the challenges we face now seem insurmountable, there will be scant little political bandwidth to deal with the immense tests the next few decades will introduce.

To my mind capitalism is not the common denominator here. The overriding theme is control. I don’t think that handing powers over to an enormous interventionist state project will help alleviate these tensions. In fact I think such an endeavor will make social tensions more acute. If we want to remedy these issues in the long run it makes sense to give people the means to confidently run their own lives.

We saw a brief glimpse of this (believe it or not) at the Labour party conference. One of their most popular policy areas has been the promise to give more powers to local authorities to solve issues that really matter to local people. Even right wing pundits were impressed by this initiative.

One thing I have observed since I became a libertarian several years ago is the varying degrees to which people are happy to let others fly the freedom flag for them. I have come across many individuals who are happy to vote for the Conservative party in the hope they somehow remember that they are supposed to be a pro-capitalist party. Thankfully seem to have rejected the notion that somehow UKIP and the far-right are allies to the libertarian cause.

But one thing that I hope freedom lovers across the country realize this week it is that if we want to stand for free enterprise and individualism, we will have to do it alone. Nobody else can be bothered to make a coherent argument for individual liberty. The battle of ideas is here and we are going to have to stick up for ourselves.

My Journey To Brexit

I voted to leave the European Union in 2016. But if you would have told me that just two years before I would have rolled over laughing at you. Until really quite recently I was a staunch defender of the EU- in fact, if you asked me in 2014, I would have told you that we should head full steam into a United States of Europe. So what changed?

The reason I am posting this article now is that, over the past few years, it seems like the debate about Brexit has gone nowhere. This weekend one hundred thousand people marched in London to demand a vote on the final Brexit deal. There is a serious discussion to be had about the public voting on such a crucial issue. But there should be little doubt in our minds that many of the people marching on Saturday had every intention of scuppering Brexit completely, by any means necessary. Having a final vote gives the hardcore remain camp a golden opportunity to do just that.

When people discuss leaving the EU they get bogged down in minor details and end up making ridiculous predictions about the future. If I listen to a row about the EU on the radio, it often feels like a competition to figure out who possesses the most accurate crystal ball. The reason I and many others like me voted Brexit is the sordid state of the European Union. More fundamentally, many people on both sides do not have a good understanding of what the EU is or how it works. For some Remainers, the EU is the pillar that holds up our economy, without it the whole framework of Britain beings to fall apart. This is a hopelessly misguided view. Yet, on the other hand, many Breixteers assume that life outside the EU will be a blessed, voyage to a prosperous garden of Eden. This is also wrong.

When Britain voted in 2016, it passed its verdict on the European Union. I believe that the reason why so many people voted to remain part of the EU is that they had an incorrect perception of what the EU is. Here I will detail why my view on the EU changed. In my pro-EU days, my positive perception of that amalgam of institutions was based on three crucial axioms that turned out not to be true:

  • The EU would help Europe deal with a crisis.
  • The EU keeps Britain prosperous
  • The EU is fair

These were the assumptions that kept me supporting the EU. But in the years leading up to the referendum, one by one these perceptions were revealed as nothing more than empty myths.

The first and probably most significant reason for my support of the EU was the perception that is would help small European countries deal with a crisis. Indeed, if you look at the placards and banners that were being gleefully thrust into the air this weekend you will see lots of references to ‘brotherhood’ and ‘togetherness’. There is a palpable sense amongst Remainers that the EU helps bring humanity together. Having spent my formative years watching Newsnight and reading copies of The Economist I assumed that the EU was great because it allowed otherwise small nations to club together and punch above their weight. But then the refugees came…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not in favour of stopping desperate people from seeking a new life in a stable and prosperous country. In fact, on paper, if you have a mass influx of refugees the EU is exactly the sort of organisation you would hope could address that issue. The EU should have acted as a bastion of hospitality that stood firm and addressed this challenge as brothers arm in arm with a shared love of humankind. So it was a big shock for me when this didn’t happen. Part of the logic of the EU is that it allows small European countries to club together to deal with big challenges but the EU crumbled under the pressure of this crisis. Far from being able to address the issue effectively, we saw some truly horrific scenes emerging from the frontiers of this supposedly ‘civilised’ institution.

Instead of showing a spirit of togetherness we saw children washing up dead on the shores of EU countries. We saw families charging through border towns with angry police platoons chasing them like cattle. We saw EU leaders close their borders rather than accommodate starving families. Hardly the progressive bastion of international love that many in the Remain camp associate with the EU. Furthermore, the handling of the refugee crisis has had devastating long-term consequences for Europe. By mismanaging the large-scale migration so spectacularly the EU has contributed to the rise of extremist far-right movements in almost every single EU member state. Three years on from the migrant crisis, the EU is no closer to solving this problem; just ask anybody in Sicily, Malta or Calais. In my view, the people that assume that the EU is a defender of Human Rights and an organisation that brings the world together are just wrong. Rather than acting in unison, the small countries of the EU were left on their own to deal with this enormous challenge. I understand their opinion because I used to hold it myself. But our opinions must change when new evidence proves us flat out wrong. 

The next myth that I held sacred about the EU was that it keeps Britain a prosperous country. I used to adhere to the platitudes that ‘without the EU Britain will not survive.’ The Remain argument is on it’s best footing here. It is undeniable that Britain does a lot of business with the EU and Brexit will incur some serious economic challenges for the UK, that much is undeniable. Since the Brexit vote, several big companies have signalled that they wish to move their businesses overseas to countries within the single market. I believe in free trade. Obviously losing access to the single market will be bad for Britain. But does Brexit spell doom for the British economy? The answer must be an unequivocal no.

40% of Britain’s external trade is with the EU, this is an impressive figure. Enough to convince me that Britain was much better off in the EU. But there are other important things to consider. Firstly, only around 6% or British businesses export anything (never mind the proportion that export to the EU). Furthermore, although, exports are important, they are not the linchpin of the British economy as some Remainers suggest. We are a much greater importing country than an exporting one, the value of our business to the EU is plain for all to see. Not being part of the single market is not ideal, but not fatal for Britain. It is a delusion to assume that the Germans, Dutch, French et al really don’t care about whether we are part of their trading block or not. But like many other Remainers, I fell for the argument that without the benevolent hand of Brussels our entire economy would grind to a halt.

One of the most pervasive myths about the EU is that it is in a strong economic position. One of the great unspoken aspects of the Brexit debate is the scale of the European debt crisis. This is a sword of Damocles looming over some of the most important countries in the EU. So far, by fiscal bullying and outright manipulation, the EU has avoided total collapse due to this issue. Yet, there is no doubt that is the EU is going to avoid total financial collapse it will have to undergo a process of economic integration that will rival the introduction of the single currency in terms of its scope. A key moment in my journey to voting for Brexit rather than Remain was the realisation that voting to stay in the EU was not a vote for the status quo. It is a barely hidden secret that those in the upper echelons of the EU see their organisation as a federalist project rather than an alliance of countries. During the Brexit debate, we were constantly being told that a vote for Remain was a vote for stability. But nothing could be further from the truth. Over the next decade, the EU will probably take further strides towards being a single political unit or begin the process of dissolving. Not by design of its member states but out of sheer necessity. My brother had a copy of Yanis Varofakis’ book And The Weak Suffer What They Must. I have a bad habit of picking up a book and reading the last page. In it, the influential Greek statesman argues, very forcefully that to survive the EU must integrate much further and much fatser and I have to say that I agree with him. It didn’t mean much to me at the time but that realisation had big consequences for my referendum during the EU referendum.

The final and last reason that persuaded me to change my vote from Remain to Brexit was the realisation that the EU is not a fair institution. If you read into the anti-Brexit march on Saturday one of the things that comes across is that the EU is seen as a bastion of democracy by some in the Remain camp. Indeed, back when I used to be a cheerleader for the EU one of my implicit assumptions was that it was a profoundly democratic body that was a vehicle for spreading enlightened views across the world. But like many of my other assumption about the EU, during the years leading up to the referendum, this view was proven completely false.

Fundamentally the way the EU works is as a club. Just because you are in the unions it does not mean that you will derive any benefit from being a member. To really benefit from being an EU member means that you need to ‘play the game.’ Countries like France and Italy are excellent at gaining benefits from the EU whilst minimising their commitments. Whereas Britain, Denmark, Sweden are much less good at playing the European game. Britain has never been good at ‘playing the EU game.’ The EU is not a fair institution, while some nations benefit greatly from being an EU member, others get pushed around strong-armed into accepting policies that are not in their best interests. Another important demonstration of how the EU uses its power to bully members was the Greek bailout referendum in 2015. Led by the left-wing Syriza party Greece was asked to accept a bailout package from the EU to help with its chronic debt problem. Yet, one the stipulations of the bailout would mean that Greece would have to implement harsh austerity measures, despite the fact that the Greeks had just elected a left-wing party to do the exact opposite of that.

The solution to Greece’s debt problem should have been rather simple. Devalue currency to increase exports, reduce public spending commitments and renegotiate debt repayment arrangements. But because it was an EU member state it was virtually prohibited from doing any of these things. The EU made quite a fuss over the Greek decision to vote oxi (no) and reject the EU’s bailout deal. This issue quite an eye-opening moment for me. The apparent democratic credentials of the EU I knew and loved were being stripped away. The EU leant very heavily on the Greeks to make the ‘right’ decision. And after the whole incident was over, and the Greeks indeed voted to reject the EU’s financial demands they were essentially imposed on Greece over the course of the next few years. The Greek bailout referendum was a watershed for me and my view of the European Union.

The final straw for my love of the EU was during the buildup to the referendum. We all remember David Cameron waxing lyrical about how he could get a deal with Angela Merkel and reform the EU. At this stage, I was on a knife-edge. If David Cameron could reach an agreement with the German chancellor and come to some kind of arrangement to give Britain greater autonomy within the EU then I would quite probably have voted to remain. AT least in the EU would have proven itself open to, and capable of making necessary reforms and adjustments when the circumstances called for it. But it wasn’t to be. The Prime Minister’s requests were met with a flat and definite no from the de facto head of the European Union. This was the last straw for me, all of the events that had caused me to change my once fervently pro-EU opinion began to make sense. Despite the fact that Britain has been a net contributor to Europe and one of it’s most valuable assets we were unable to get any concessions fro Europe. The EU is a fundamentally unfair institution.

Obviously, it is dead wrong of me to state that the EU is incapable of reform. It goes through transformations and changes all the time. Yet, these changes are always towards one direction- ever closer union. One of the strangest facets of the Brexit aftermath has been the way people interpret the EU’s leverage over the UK. It is an open secret that Michel Barnier cannot give too many concessions to the Brexit team because many of the EU’s member states will then want to leave the EU. It boggles my mind that people then think the EU is negotiating from a position of strength. This truly sounds like some sort of abusive relationship; ‘If I am nice to you then all my other friends will want to leave me.’ It is pure folly to suggest that a vote to Remain was a vote for stability, quite the opposite. If our recent past is anything to go by the EU is heading into uncharted territory where the lines between the EU and it’s member states are becoming more blurred. There was never really an option to vote for the status-quo. There were only ever two choices, to live out the fantasies of Jean Claude Junker, or to go our separate ways

In this article, I have outlined that I voted to leave the EU not because I am a racist or a moron, but because I looked at the current state of EU and drew my own conclusion from there. I don’t believe Breixt will lead to a new golden age, I never did. My choice was pragmatic. Like many people who voted Brexit, I simply observed what the EU was doing and decided that wanted no part in it. I sincerely wish that many in the Remain camp would do us the courtesy of acknowledging that rather than smearing us as jingoistic reprobates. But just like the dreams of a ‘two speed Europe’ that might be too much to ask.

Not Playing Political Football

I would like to begin this article with an apology. For various reasons, I have not been able to put any blog posts up on here for some time. I am not under any delusion that people are sat staring at their computer screen eagerly anticipating my next article. But I enjoy writing and I know that people enjoy engaging with the content here on Libertarian Home so I am sorry for my radio silence over the past month.

One of the reasons why I have not been blogging is that I have been recalibrating my outlook on politics. When a big issue comes up or some controversy rears it’s ugly head we are often tempted to fall into a default ‘right-left’ response. Given that it is the world cup at the moment I feel that it is appriate to call this process ‘political football’. Your team scores a goal- you cheer and when the other team boots the ball into the back of the net- you boo.

But this isn’t good for us as individuals or the course of a sensible discussion. Given that we spend so much of our time on social media it would be wrong for us to deny the effect that being part of an ideological tribe. The internet was supposed to bring us all closer together, as one big happy family. Yet, the real impact has been to divide people into groups. This process of isolating ourselves in echo chambers has been well documented. Particularly by Niall Ferguson in his latest book ‘The Square and the Tower.’

Let’s be honest, we have all been there. A serious political issue has occurred, it’s been a busy day we have not had the time to look into it properly and figure out exactly what has happened. Instead of researching the topic we see hundreds of our ideological peers posting on Twitter on FaceBook. We go with the flow. All of a sudden we have an opinion about something that we know nothing about simply by going along with what other people on our team are saying.

That may be an extreme example, but by being part of a tribe we find ourselves predisposed to opinions that would not otherwise have held. I have always had a liberal attitude to immigration and despaired  Christopher Cantwell types who argue that ‘racism is the only way to a free society.’ However, during the Roseanne Barr controversy, I found myself being sympathetic to her cause. Purely because I saw what other people were posting on FaceBook and Tweeting in response to her dismissal. I had never heard of Roseanne Barr or even knew what she said. So it was strange that I even had a view on the controversy.

After spending five minutes looking into what the American comedian said I decided that it was a big mistake to say such a thing. But the experience was a wake-up call. Making your mind up on something based on what other members of your team think is something that should be avoided.

There are good reasons why political football has emerged. In the twenty-first century world of instant information where an hour is a long time, having a default position as a member of the right or the left can be a helpful shortcut to getting a timely social media post. Similarly, we all have busy lives and often don’t have the time or energy to really get to the heart of an issue before we form an opinion.

Ultimately, playing political football is lazy. Taking the time to consider things and apply our principles to an issue takes time and effort but it’s worth it. It shouldn’t be acceptable for us to think “I don’t accept your views because you’re a leftist w**ker.” The term ‘intellectual dark web’ has become popular lately. It describes people who refuse to involve themselves in the maelstrom of petty political goal scoring and advocate a principled and evidence led viewpoint. People such as Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Niall Ferguson, Sam Harris, Eric Weinstein, Dave Rubin etc. are all supposed to be part of the intellectual dark web.

It is much better to be part of this phenomenon than to be part of the ‘right-wing team’ in my opinion. It has been really quite alarming for me, to see how fast I can have my opinions on an issue purely because of what others are saying. I’m going to be a pretentious T**t and finish this article with a quote from Plato.

Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools because they have to say something- Plato