The Weird and Wonderful Day for Freedom

First of all, I would like to apologise for how long it has taken me to publish this article. It was my sincere intention to get this out a day after the event, but it has been a very busy week!

It was a sweltering hot afternoon in central London and a rather unusual emerged from Hyde Park. Hundreds of Union Jack waving people were marching through the hot sun towards parliament square. Not a common sight here in London. As somebody who has been to marches and demonstrations designed to appeal to left-leaning people, I was curious about what Day For Freedom would be like. The actual march from Speakers Corner towards Parliament Square was quite a bizarre affair. This was clearly not a group of people that were used to marching. In fact, most of the crowd was rather muted as it passed hundreds of bewildered onlookers. Ultimately, the heat got too much for me and the ‘down with sharia law’ placards make me feel rather uncomfortable so I ditched the main march and headed straight for parliament square.

When I got there the first thing that surprised me was the sheer variety of the people there. Contrary to what many deriders were saying on social media, the audience was not comprised of ex-national front members and football hooligans in combat jackets. The audience was much less homogenous that many of the stop of the war events I have attended.

The order of events for Day For Freedom was distinctly divided into two halves. There was an anti-Islam half followed by a free speech half. The first crop of speakers was the anti-Islam lot. It was in this first hour that the divisions amongst the crowd were the starkest. Speeches from Tommy Robinson and Gerard Batten emphasised the threat militant Islam posed to freedom of speech here in the UK. This was the low point of the day. While the there were some bouts of sporadic applause from the front row of the crowd, most people near the back and centre of the were clearly not at Day For Freedom to hear about Muslims. In fact, the whole Anti-Islam hour felt like an uncomfortable add-on to the free speech agenda of the day. The nadir of the whole affair was a speech by  Anne Marie-Waters, a woman so Islamophobic that she had to leave UKIP. Her warning of a ‘global elitist Islamic communist conspiracy’ was met with silence by most of the crowd.

All in all, the first half of the day was a disappointment. Is radical Islam a threat to free speech here in the UK? Somewhat. On a day to celebrate free speech did the topic of Islam require four separate speakers? Definitely not.

The second half of the day is where Day For Freedom really hit its stride. A massive TV screen appearance by Lauren Southern signalled a marked change of pace for the whole affair. By far the best and most well-received speakers of the day were Mark Meechan, otherwise known as Count Dankula, Carl Benjamin (Sargon of Akkad), Gavin McInnes and the infamous Milo Yiannopoulos. It was here that the whole Day For Freedom began to make sense. Although it has to be said that McInnes and Yiannopoulos are far to the right of myself, the message of a clear, intelligent and articulate case for freedom of speech resonated with many different people. Culminating in thunderous rounds of applause and cheering.

If you read many of the articles published after Day For Freedom you would assume that it was some sort of occult gathering. Where everybody in the crowd secretly knew that ‘freedom of speech’ was some byzantine code for ‘ethnic cleansing’. But nothing could be further from the truth. Free speech is an enormous virtue in and of itself. It doesn’t need to be stapled onto a nationalist agenda. That for me was the clear message from Day For Freedom.

I often find libertarians rather downtrodden about their beliefs. I myself have been susceptible to episodes of “oh what’s the point”?  But if Day For Freedom has taught us anything, it is that there is an enormous enthusiasm for libertarian values like freedom of speech. Unsurprisingly the conservative party has swallowed the anti-free speech agenda wholesale. Leaving lots of right-wing people stuck in limbo, between a directionless Tory party and fanatical flag waving ultras. In this space, there is room for a non-racist, positive call for freedom.

I hope that because of Day For Freedom, liberal minded folk will feel empowered to start spreading their ideas and organise their own events. There is clearly a huge appetite for the message of freedom in Britain today. We should not let that demand go unanswered. Because nobody else is going to do it or us. Perhaps 2018 really could be the year libertarians emerge out from internet chat rooms and onto the streets.

 

Ways to Reach a Wider Audience

Yesterday I wrote a post The Way Libertarians Should Engage in Politics outlining my view that libertarians should be able to take part in politics whilst retaining our identity. Personally, I think that Adam Kokesh’s idea to run for ‘non-president’ of the united states in 2020 is a little too gimmicky but at least he is thinking about how to hijack the political system for libertarian ends. Instead of writing a list of possible things libertarians could do, I have created a pyramid. The activities towards the top of the pyramid would be more effective and hence, require more organisation. Whereas the actions at the bottom of the pyramid are easier for individuals to carry out.

I make no apology for omitting various things from my pyramid such as violent protest and ‘infiltrating the conservative party’. To my mind, these methods of gaining prominence would not work. More importantly, this is not by any means an exhaustive list. There are many more things we could be doing. My intention here is really to help people conceptualise how we could actually begin to reach a bigger audience.

 

 

 

 

 

The Way Libertarians Should Get Involved in Politics.

 

Libertarian prodigy Adam Kokesh and the Anarcho-capitalist ‘zen master’ Larkin Rose have clashed recently and very publically. The reason these two well-known figures have had a heated exchange is over Adam Kokesh’s decision to run for ‘non-president’ of the united states in the next US general election.

My summary of the debate is as follows: Adam Kokesh wants to spread the message of liberty in the political sphere by running for president. Whereas, Larkin Rose believes that by simply taking part in the electoral process you justify the inertia of the government. On his blog, Larkin Rose has gone as far as calling Adam Kokesh a pompous fool in what he sees as a delusional campaign that will have no real results.

The discussion is very interesting to me because it reflects a shift in my own personal position on this issue. If you would have asked me a year ago which person I would have supported, I would undoubtedly have told you that I side with Larkin Rose. His logic makes sense; by engaging with the political system, you justify the state. Furthermore, he is right when he when he critiques of Adam Kokesh’s idea that you could even have a ‘non-president’ as insane. It would be highly illegal for someone to simply sign a document saying ‘I hereby abolish the government’. Throughout the discussion, Rose sticks to his guns by saying the transition from our current situation to a free society should be by ‘walking away from the state’.

However, my opinion has begun to shift. It sounds obvious but trying to engage with people politically in areas other than politics is rather difficult. Outside overtly libertarian circles trying to convince ordinary people to buy Bitcoin, stop voting for political parties and purchase a copy of Human Action is extremely challenging. This agorist rationale reminds me of a talk I went to about the British Missionary David Livingstone. Despite travelling widely across Africa, learning how to converse with the Africans he encountered, being a celebrity in Britain and having significant imperial support. He is said to only ever have converted one African to Christianity. Clearly, trying to enact change by persuading one individual at a time is an enormous task.

But what about the idea of a libertarian revolution? This is perhaps more realistic, there has been lots of enthusiasm around the attempt to create a libertarian(ish) enclave in Liberland and I have lost count of how many articles I have read about ‘sea-steads’. Yet, there are still good reasons to be sceptical about such an event. If there was indeed going to be a libertarian revolution, then there would already be audible murmurs of libertarianism reverberating around the country. Historically, revolutions or even protests tend to be flashes of anger that are picked up and channelled by more ideologically committed enterprises.  For example, (probably) the most successful organised protest group in the UK The Stop the War Coalition are able to hold massive demonstrations on a regular basis that have an effect on government policy. This isn’t because of their members wholesale swallow the ideological direction of the organisers, but because they work tirelessly to make sure that when there is anger, they have something ready to go.

It stands to reason then, that perhaps the most crucial issue with libertarianism (particularly here in the UK) is that we are disorganised. Libertarianism is a minority position. Therefore, unless people would be prepared to suffer a massive wage drop, it is understandable that we tend not to be full-time career radicals in the way that many Stop the War organisers are. All of the libertarians I have had the opportunity to meet are normal working people first and libertarians second. Again, this is understandable but it does mean that we suffer a severe organisation deficit. By the time we are organised any potential wave of indignation will have been and gone. I presume that there are clever ways to get around the fact that there are no full-time libertarians coordinating a potential action, but I have yet to see them.

To my mind, the worst idea that I come across is the ‘wait and see’ option. The idea that we should wait a few hundred years and wait for libertarianism to become popular on its own is nonsense. Forget politics, nobody has ever achieved anything by this logic. And if they have it is only the case in retrospect.

Although I sympathise with Larkin Rose and admire his patience. Although I am very much against the idea that any cultural shift can be imposed from above, I think that simply refusing to engage in politics is a mistake. My position on this issue has recently shifted in a more politics friendly direction. But the dark realm of established politics is far from risk-free.

The perils of getting involved with the political system present us with similarly enormous problems.There are several good reasons why this may not be the best course or action for libertarians. The first and the most obvious is that the odds of us ever winning an election are minuscule. It is understandable that come election time, many people who may wish to support us will vote for one of the more established political parties. In fact, some more committed and practically minded folk may make the decision that it would be better to get involved with a more established party and try to turn it in a more libertarian direction from the inside. So it is clear that under our current electoral system, competing in mainstream politics would be very difficult. And that doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon.

But there is an easier way to build a following in mainstream politics. And that is by putting forward policies that are widely popular rather than principled. In fact, politics is often a delicate balance between sticking to one’s ideals and doing what is expedient. This is in itself a problem. By competing in the bear pit of politics libertarians will inevitably need to appear palatable to the general public. Furthermore, there will come a point where individual libertarians will be expected drop discussions about ideology and start talking about strategy. This will not be an easy shift to make. Why bother engaging in politics just to have your ideals diluted when you can stay out of things and spread ideas another way? There are no easy answers to this question, hence why many libertarians stay out of politics.

We should also consider the cost of getting involved in politics. Unlike a business venture there are considerable financial and time commitments attached to politics. Money will need to be raised, weekends spent campaigning and countless hours will need to be spent organising things. And what will come of it? Probably nothing. Getting a political party off the ground can take decades of commitment and sacrifice. No wonder lots of people think we should just bypass the established political system altogether.

As previously stated Larkin Rose is correct in his assertion that Adam Kokesh’s dream of abolishing the state is impossible, the government does not work that way. But in the debate Kokesh makes it clear that he does not expect to win, he merely just wants to highjack the political system to spread the ideas of libertarianism. In my opinion, there is something in this.

It sounds simplistic but mainstream politics is the language that most people use to talk about how to change the world. When I turn on my TV and watch Question Time, I expect to hear about politics. Whereas when I watch Countryfile I do not. Having spent the past four years as a libertarian I have noticed a lack of libertarians in our national debate. By refusing to engage with the political system at all we are locking ourselves out of it.

Most political debates (to use a polite term for it) I see on social media are rarely intense philosophical discussions. They are about people, policies and parties. If we remain outside the mainstream, we will remain outside the consciousness of most people. They will have no reference point for libertarianism, and we do not become part of the political lexicon.

To use an analogy: when everybody else is conversing in English we are speaking Japanese. Indeed some people can understand Japanese, but they are few in number outside a core of native speakers. Instead of trying to get others to learn our language, it’s time we started talking English.

This does not mean that we should abandon discussing ideas and trading opinions with each other, far from it. If you visit the social media pages of most British socialist organisations you will see that they bitterly amongst themselves about the real interpretation of some obscure paragraph in Das Kapital whilst still having a profound, and growing impact on our political landscape; how do they do it? The answer is easy, they play the game.

It is my belief that as libertarians we should be more willing to ‘play the game’. However, there is a middle ground to be reached here. If we abandon principles in favour of practicality then we would all join the Conservative party. Not a good idea in my book. Yet, if we put all principles over any sense of expediency then we go nowhere. There are practical things we can do that would introduce libertarianism to the British Public that don’t compromise what libertarianism stands for.Clearly, we must find a way of engaging with the political mainstream, without becoming absorbed by it.

I have ended this article guilty of doing something that I hate; claiming that people should ‘do something’ but not articulating what exactly I mean by that. There will be a follow-up post tomorrow outlining some things people could actually do.

 

How we can Make 2018 a Libertarian Year

In 2016, the Overton window of British politics became unjammed. The window is now free to move. How can libertarians best capitalise on the new opportunities presented? Where are we now, who and what are we, and what are these opportunities? What are the threats?

I don’t presume to say who is and is not a libertarian, if that is even a useful question. It is easy to get diverted by attempts to draw a precise boundary around a definition rather than identifying what clearly lies within the boundary. You could say we are people who believe in the Non-Aggression Principle or those holding a general presumption in favour of individual freedom. Perhaps we are followers of Hayek, Rand or whoever. In contrast with socialism and communism, libertarianism is not dogmatic: there’s no defined set of policies such as ‘total nationalisation’ or ‘abolish private property’. Instead, it is more like conservatism: a set of habits of mind and attitudes about policy, rather than a set of policies themselves.

It is therefore perfectly possible for libertarians passionately and sincerely to disagree about important policy matters (e.g., Brexit, anti-trust) as well as more fundamental philosophical questions (e.g., natural rights, which were controversial even as early as Benjamin Tucker and Max Stirner). In the long term, there are threats to one of the primary units of analysis in libertarian thought: the autonomous, law-abiding individual.

There is no reason to suppose, a priori, that the rule of law will continue to exist. The first steps towards privatising quasi-legislative power in favour of machines were made in the 1990s in relation to copyright enforcement technologies. If you can implement a restriction on someone’s behaviour via software, anticircumvention laws will protect the behaviour of your software against their hacking. Even if your software’s behaviour violates their most fundamental rights such as freedom of speech. It is not hard to imagine an unregulatable world of software, robots, and drones which enforce the will of their owners, or their hackers, in a broad range of public and private areas of life. The prospects that the owners will all have libertarian views are slim.

Deeper than the attack on law, our concept of what is a human individual and our confidence that we have free will are both coming under more sustained scrutiny due to advances in medical science and philosophy. Advancing the notion that we lack free will in some important sense is the project of John Brockman, an influential literary agent who has drawn to himself many famous scientist authors, or authors whom he has made famous, and many authors of whom libertarians would tend to approve.

The best example of libertarian democratic success today is Senator David Leyonhjelm, recently re-elected a libertarian to the Australian federal parliament, where he has shared the balance of power in the upper house with various other minor parties. This necessarily entails compromise: he has the ability in limited cases to trade off his support for one measure against another. There is no room in such calculations for purism; all that is available is some of what libertarians want, or none of it. Not all of it.

It is my belief that it is worthwhile focusing both on theoretical goals and practical goals. We should know where we’d like to go, and the direction in which we should take our next step towards that destination. How we got where we are should matter less to us than that we are on the same journey.

Reaching 20,000

Given the upcoming snap election I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on the health of the Libertarian movement in the UK.

I am of the opinion that Libertarianism, in the long run, stands a good chance of being a dominant system of ethics and political operations if it exerts cultural pressure as opposed to being a purely political entity. In practice this would mean that Libertarianism would seep into the mainstream through films, artworks, books, presence in academia and through social media.

The problem is that this would be impossible for a small group of people to organise (no matter how talented they were) and require and an endless pit of resources in order to proceed.

In the short run then it would seem sensible to consider galvanising the British Libertarian movement around something more tangible. Perhaps a political party (just putting it out there), annual gathering or literature festival would be appropriate.

We will also need to devise a way of measuring our progress.

The historical benchmark for political significance in the modern world appears to be around the 20,000 mark.

After a long battle against insignificance and humiliation UKIP consolidated its party membership at around 20,000 before increasing rapidly in the mid-2010s. 20,000 seemed to be the point at which it became a credible party that could be a player of the political stage.

On a much grimmer note; at their strongest in 2014 the CIA put a conservative estimate on the number of fighters in ISIS at around 20,000.

If we go back slightly further. On the eve of Hitler’s march to power in 1923 the Nazi party had 20,000 members. The Paris Commune supposedly had about 20,000 active combatants and right before the Russian Revolution in 1917, the Bolshevik party had just over 20,000 members.

I apologise for my reference to all of the loathsome political organisations above who are all horrific in their own way. They were merely the figures that first sprang to mind when I decided to write this piece.

The figure of 20,000 is an arbitrary one. But it does appear to be the dividing line between something significant and relative obscurity.

Clearly, a case could be made that for the Libertarian movement to be an important force in Britain. 20,000 is a good target to aim for.

I do not know what exactly that figure should be comprised of. Party members, attendees at a conference, readers of a certain news periodical etc. But what harm is there in at least having some sort of goal to get us started?

 

 

Demonstrating in Defence of Capitalism

My family has been resident in the London borough of Haringey since the early 1970s. For those readers outside London, Haringey is a socially diverse area of north London, encompassing one of the wealthiest postcodes in London, N6 (Highgate is home to politicians and millionaire celebrities), as well as some of the most deprived neighbourhoods of the UK (most notably Tottenham, the location of much social unrest and rioting a few years ago). Last night I found myself in the unusual position of demonstrating alongside members of the Socialist Workers’ Party, Momentum and the Green Party. The reason? Haringey Council’s creation of the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV). You know something is amiss when the hard left and a solitary libertarian unite to protest against the same thing!

So what is this HDV? According to Haringey Council’s own website,

“….the HDV will be a 50:50 partnership between Haringey Council and a private partner, Lendlease, a leading property group which has been chosen following a lengthy selection process. [Italics mine – more about this selection process later…] The way the partnership will work is that Haringey provides some of its council land to be developed and Lendlease matches this with cash and its development expertise.”

So far, so cronyistic. Nothing new there, then. I think I’m preaching to the converted on this blog when it comes to advocating for free markets in all things. Unfortunately, the HDV is that ugliest of things: a “public-private partnership”. That such an enterprise continues to be regarded as a capitalist solution to the economic stagnation in Haringey points to gross misunderstanding on the part of the public about what capitalism and free markets actually are. I demonstrated against this partnership to make a stand for free market ideas. If the HDV comes into effect, it will be a £2 billion exercise in turning the public further against the principles of capitalism…because incompetence and financial mismanagement are the only outcomes that I foresee.

It’s no secret that local councils have had their budgets slashed – and I am all in favour of pruning back the excessive bureaucracy of underperforming state structures, especially in Haringey, which has some of the highest council tax rates of any London borough but some of the worst social outcomes for residents.

What’s specifically wrong with the HDV?

The HDV is meant to be a 50/50 partnership, but we as residents have not had access to any clear documentation on the duties and liabilities of each partner. Previous disasters with other PFI council schemes in London, such as the £15 million failure of the Paddington Health Campus, give taxpayers just cause to be wary of such opaque initiatives. When these things inevitably go wrong the council, and therefore the taxpayer, foot the bill. The army of consultants and executives from the private provider walk off with the funds. Oh, and that “lengthy selection process” that the council website told us about? Last summer, the council website published a shortlist of just three bidders for a whopping £2 billion contract: Lendlease; Morgan Sindall with Affinity Sutton and Circle; and Pinnacle with Starwood Capital and Catalyst.

Really? Only three tenders for one of the biggest building contracts in London? Haringey residents have not had access to documents detailing why, out of the three tenders,

Lendlease has now been picked for the contract.

According to Councillor Zena Brabazon,

“There are massive issues of risk, due diligence, democratic accountability, impact on people’s homes, tenants, leaseholders and 508 businesses renting from the Council whose leases/license/contracts will be transferred to the HDV private limited liability partnership.

Interestingly, Haringey has signed up to central government’s “Transparency Code” – and even Westminster has advised councils to eschew Commercial Confidentiality in public procurement processes. Why, then, have we not had access to documents detailing why the other two tenders were rejected? In the interests of competition, why has the sale of council assets not been thrown open to the market, rather than putting them all under Lendlease’s control?

This looks like it could be a protracted 20-year process of unaccountability and ultimate business failure. All because the basic principles of competition and due diligence are alien to our culture where government bails out its private partners. The HDV is not a minotaur, half government, half private enterprise. I fear it’ll be more like Medusa, with the taxpayer having to foot the bill to cut off all those snakes of unintended consequences.

Is the Libertarian Moment Finally Over?

The face of popular protest against dreary centre-ground politics has emerged. Just about everybody is in agreement that the face is nationalist and populist.

Donald Trumps’ inauguration speech and the executive actions he has taken since becoming president seem to confirm this. Disappointingly these headwinds of popular discontent have very little to do with libertarianism.

Since the 2008 financial disaster, the freedom movement has been growing. However, I can’t help wondering almost a decade later if the libertarian moment is finally over?

It would seem that in the wake of the great Credit Crunch libertarians have upped their profile. But have we reached our high water mark?

In the last ten years, there has been an outpouring of good quality Libertarian leaning literature (admittedly as well as a whole lot of awful stuff). People who represent freedom oriented positions have been heard in popular discussions and libertarianism has provided a popular non-Marxist outlet for discontent.

We have gone from being a microscopic section of popular opinion to being merely marginal. Not an easy transition to make. Certainly, Libertarians still have no influence in mainstream politics but that is hardly surprising.

However, the libertarian movement is not about to retreat because there is still a great need for libertarianism.

Governments are still ready to trample on the freedom of their people. Furthermore, the disastrous financial policies that triggered chaos in 2008 are still in place today and look set to implode again in the near future. In a world of closing borders we need voices of tolerance that are pragmatic rather than hysterical.

The libertarian moment is not over yet.