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.

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 

Alfie Evans is a Turning Point for How Britain Sees The State

On Saturday the 28th of April the toddler Alfie Evans tragically died. He was admitted into hospital only seven months after he was born and has remained there ever since as a result of a degenerative neurological condition. This February the doctors at Alder Hay hospital decided that it was not worth trying to preserve Alfie’s life. When the parents tried to remove Alfie from the UK and take him to Italy for treatment, they were not allowed. In the eyes of the law, the opinions and personal convictions of the doctors counted for more than the parents of the child.

This should be a big moment for British culture.

Call it ‘national mythology’ or sentimental, but a large part of British culture is the belief that in Britain, the relationship between citizen and the state is one of mutual respect. Our politicians are not supposed to be despots. They may be idiotic and fumbling but the popular perception is that dictatorship is just ‘not British’. This rosy view is representative of the way we Britons view the government. British civil servants are competent instead of corrupt and nepotistic. British policemen are ‘bobbies’ rather than armed to the teeth pseudo warriors. While many counties have had a difficult relationship with their secret security services we turn our spies into much-loved action heroes. And what British child did not grow up with the notion that although the American army has more guns than we do, the British Army is still (somehow) the best in the world?

Whether any of this is actually true is highly debatable. But the popular view that the British state is a benign, measured entity is a pervasive feature of our national character. The Alfie Evans case could change this. Here we have the state openly flouting the will of a family to save their young son. This certainly does not fit into the view of the gentle state myth we are so used to.

The Alfie Evans controversy should be a watershed for British culture. State power has grown unchecked for decades, to truly frightening levels.The delusion that the British government exists to serve the people is a silly mistake at best, and dangerously deranged at worst. Across the country conversations about the scope of state power will be happening. Let’s hope that people come to the right conclusion. That the state has grossly overstepped it’s mark here and that it should not be tolerated.

Bombing Syria would be a Disaster

 

Tucker Carlson is not somebody who I would usually be happy to endorse. But in this video that has been doing the rounds on social media, he is absolutely spot on. There seems to be a growing consensus amongst the powers that be in America that something must be done about President Assad. Is has been clear for some time that the Assad regime will win this war that has raged since 2011. But claims that he has used chemical weapons against his own people in Duma has rattled the US State Department.

Did Assad use these weapons against Syrian civilians? Yes he probably did, but ultimately this is going to be almost impossible to prove. Over the past few days, there have been heated exchanges in the UN between the USA and Russia- who flatly deny that Assad has used chemical weapons throughout the conflict.

And then this happened…

Now… The childish language and inappropriate content aside here, banging the war drum on President would be an absolute disaster for the USA and the whole world for three important reasons.

1. The first and most important reason is that if there is an encounter between the USA and Russia in Syria, it could quite easily escalate into something much more serious. Given the fact that President Trump and President Putin have amassed considerable political capital being ‘macho men’ it would be hard for one of them to back down. If something approaching a general war between these two powers happens it is almost certain that we would be in a world war three scenarios. The west and Russia & allies would be a conflict where both sides have nuclear weapons. What the exact composition of each side would be is unclear. China would have a lot to gain in such a conflict by staying neutral and providing materials to both sides. It is impossible to imagine Russia and allies beating the USA alone (nevermind supporters) but such a war would cause total devastation.

 

2. Secondly, there is the problem of credibility. I mentioned previously that President Assad probably did use chemical weapons in Duma, they key word in that sentence being probably. Intervention in an unstable Middle Eastern country based on the assumption that they have illegal weapons should fill us with dread. But the powers in the US State Department seem to have remarkably short memories. Attacking the Syrian regime based on these assumptions would ruin any semblance of credibility that the USA still has in the world. But let’s assume for a moment that the Syrian regime had used chemical weapons. The domestic backlash would still be terrible. When Tony Blair took British forces in Iraq he was a popular prime minister trying to oust a universally reviled dictator and there were still large riots in the streets. Compare this to Donald Trump in Syria; we have one of the least popular presidents in recent history who would be intervening in a country where the vast majority of the public accept that there are no ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in this conflict. Politically speaking, President Trump has everything to lose by getting further involved in Syria.

 

3. The last reason why the USA getting further involved in Syria would be a disaster is the potential outcome of Assad being weakened. The forces of the Syrian government are in a pretty battered shape at the moment. It would not take a lot for the USA to tip the balance of power against the Syrian Arab Army. But what would replace the regime in Syria? At the beginning of the conflict in 2011, there were promises of support for the so-called ‘rebels’ in Syria. Lots of our leaders ended up having egg on their face after it emerged that most of these ‘pro-western rebel groups’ were really just radical jihadist militias. If Trump decides to tip the scales against Assad, he will have to think long and hard about what Syria will look like afterwards, and it probably won’t look pretty.

 

For these reasons I hope that President Trump and his advisors think hard about escalating their involvement in Syria.

The State of Internationalism

Internationalism has been an important part of our modern worldview. Behind Syria, Russia, North Korea and the fight against international terrorism is the belief that the basis for a successful solution to these problems is cooperation between nations.

The belief that the ‘international community’ should roll up their collective sleeves and sort these issues out is understandable. After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR many people thought that things were going to get much better. Being born in the same year that the USSR crumbled. I grew up with a firm belief that there was this entity called the international community that could and would shape the world for the better.

Yet for the past decade, the trust that nations can come together and address the toughest problems we face has begun to disintegrate. The rise of China to great power status, the disaster of the Iraq War and Putin’s defiantly ‘east vs west’ stance have all contributed to the sense that the international community is now just a meaningless buzz word.

On the face of it this seems like a silly thing to say. The cooperation between different countries is perhaps greater now than it ever has been. Surely we should not let very public spats between the likes Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un hide the fact that the world is more interconnected than at any time in human history?

Yet, in a more profound way the internationalist dream is decaying rapidly. The philosophical ideal that nations (particularly America) should nurture peace and cooperation amongst other countries rightly causes eyes to roll these days. Most people no longer seriously expect countries to act outside of their own self-interest. Let’s take Syria as an example. Since the Syrian Civil War has begun there have been repeated cries for the international community to get involved and stop the carnage. But nobody has. For the helpless families living amongst the rubble of Aleppo and Ghouta the international community must be a sick joke.

That we expect countries to act in their own self-interest and not out of devotion to some ‘international brotherhood’ ideal should perhaps be a cause for celebration. The current conception of worldwide cooperation is a toothless facade of empty words and meaningless agreements. Perhaps out of the decay of the current internationalism a less fawning, more practical and directed spirit of cooperation can emerge.

To do this our politicians will need to face up to the cold realities of global politics. Profit and self-interest drive people; not goodwill. Sometimes there are people who cannot be helped, regardless of what is happening to them. Lastly, dressing up naked aggression in the guise of international brotherhood should no longer be tolerated.

Internationalism based on these principles might form the basis for a more sustainable path.

The Battle for Civilization

In 1969 the art historian Kenneth Clark presented TV audiences with his vision of Civilisation. In scope and ambition this documentary that explored the story of mankind from it’s prehistoric origins to the present day, was revolutionary.

As a total documentary junkie myself the idea that the BBC was remaking Civilisation made me jump with glee. Yes, I really am that boring…

The modern remake Civilisations is a nine-part series that involves three historians: Simon Schama, Mary Beard and David Olusoga. Like the original it is a massively ambitious project, beginning with our prehistoric ancestors and finishing in the modern era.  Yet, just as Kenneth Clark’s version did Civilisations has caused controversy.

The BBC’s Will Gompertz bashed the series for not being ambitious enough. He lays into the series for not presenting viewers with a new polemic. This is true, there is little in this series to appease the modern progressive crowd. Even the episodes presented by David Olusoga, an unabashedly left-wing academic does not follow the standard Europe= bad spiel that we have become so used to hearing.

Moreover, The Guardian’s Mark Lawson criticises Civilisations for its lack of diversity. Of the nine episodes, five are presented by Schama (a white man of all things) leaving only two each for Beard and Olusoga.  Well, I suppose you can’t please everyone.

There has also been criticism from the other end. The Spectator’s Ed West lamented that Civilisations was far too relativist for his liking. Claiming that it is a silly façade for us to pretend that the Olmecs were on a cultural Parr with the ancient Greeks.

There are some issues with Civilisations to be sure. Sadly, this is not the historical equivalent of Blue PlanetThe lack of a grand overarching narrative or unified approach makes the series feel discombobulated and pieced together rather than a unified project. It also must be said that Schama, Beard and Olusega all have copious amounts of progressive left-leaning credentials. It is doubtful the BBC would have commissioned the remake of this famous TV series starring Niall Ferguson. Lastly, many have derided Civilisations for not being daring enough. There is some logic in this, apart from the gorgeous camera work it is certainly not a revolution in programming.

It is often said that we live in a time of decay where our best years are behind us. Apparently, we are abandoning our principles and forging ever forward into the abyss of cultural nihilism. Yet watching Civilisations reminds us that while the supposed ‘great man’ narrative of history, so familiar to Kenneth Clark has suffered a vicious assault. Not everything is up for debate.

It is indeed impossible to tell a coherent story about civilisation without paying homage to The Greeks, Christianity and the ruptures of the Industrial Revolution. In an age characterised by identity politics, it is nice to be reminded of that important enlightenment maxim- that we do have a shared humanity.

It should also be mentioned that Civilisations is visually stunning. The whole series feels like one part documentary,  one part travel programme. At times, like when Schama visits the Mexican jungle I felt like saying “the BBC is just showing off now”.

In the opening scenes of Civilisations Schama in all his bombast states that we instantly know what civilisation is when faced with its opposite; barbarism in all its terrible forms. Implying that barbarism does in fact exist. The whole series stands opposed to the cultural relativism that we have become so used to and this is something to be celebrated.

Libertarian Home in 2018

There is an interesting fact circulating the internet. All living adults were born between 1900 and 2000 – an era that mostly predates the internet and both Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2006). All children were born since 2000 and their earliest memories therefore include a fully matured internet (1983) and world wide web (1991). They have all survived school with Facebook on their iPhones (2007).

Pre-internet adults are therefore running things for post-internet children, and that is something which is also going to change very rapidly from here.

One of the major effects of the internet is to allow people to exist in a bubble defined by their beliefs, surrounded by the people and opinions that they prefer to click on. It is critical that libertarians are equipped to break into those bubbles to find allies and to engage enemies. To do this we must be able to appreciate and even respect people who are in awe of viewpoints we find abhorrent. We must understand why they continue to believe silly things. You won’t change their minds if you don’t.

We must also understand who our friends are, which groups have goals compatible with our own. We must get to know what they need in terms of political and cultural change, and find ways in which our ideas and energies can be made to service common goals.

So the theme for speakers this year is that I want hear from friends about what they need and how we can help, and I want to bring forward critiques and debates on political ideas that are incompatible with our own.

Dose of Liberty Pod Cast

I am delighted that a team of Libertarian Home activists have launched “Dose of Liberty” a new regular podcast. Jordan, Bruno and Tamiris will cover three topics in 30 minutes every month.

Follow them on Facebook.

Last year in video

In the last year we had 14 meetups and published 9 new videos. Here are some of lastest and most relevant we uploaded recently:

Two Revolutionary Philosophies

The Borg’s Philosophy

What is the Libertarian Movement for?

Porn : The New Left’s War on Free Speech

We are all smokers now with Dave Atherton

Power of Fiction with Marc Sidwell

The Twilight of the Wonks with Marc Sidwell

Brexit Makes Progress

Localism 2.0 with Gintas Vilkelis

Religion vs Morality with Andrew Bernstein

Trump And The Decline Of America

Ways to Help

There is now a fascinating archive of older meetup videos which require editing, publishing and summarising. Time and money are both useful in getting these things done. If you are able to donate either then do be in touch.

Editing a video requires a minimum of two hours, a decent computer, and a modicum of technical skill (which I am willing to teach you). Summarising one requires good writing ability, an email address, the ability to watch and follow the content, and an appreciation of the strategic landscape libertarians occupy.

Writing for the Libertarian Home website is a great way to get your views across to committed libertarian activists. Libertarians must get to know each others suggestions, ideas and insights.

Blogging as a group also has positive externalities where your contributions enhance the value contributed by others. Each article creates an audience for the next one, so in general you will receive more from other’s than you give to others.

Email me to get involved.

Donating Money

The website, venue and promotional tools represent a regular expense. I am appreciative of regular donations to help cover these costs. The tip jar is open.