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In which I continue to seek part time employment as the ruler of the world.

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Saturday September 15 2007

I duly did my Gabb talk last night, and although I told Sean himself that I might record it, my preparations were so hasty that in the end I just couldn’t force myself to do this.  These however, were the main points I made:

Conservatives and Conservatism.  Conservatives always lose.  It’s in their nature.  By their nature they tend to confuse universal ideas, which often have great validity, with particular embodiments of such ideas, which are doomed to pass, along with less worthy enthusiasms for the merely antique.  Thus Conservatives have a tendency to take good ideas with them into the dustbin of history.  For me, always, libertarianism has been about rescuing libertarianism from Conservatives rather than allying with them, and perpetuating the muddle and the failure.  The subtitle of Sean Gabb’s book, How Conservatives Lost England, and How To Get It Back, makes it clear that he is indeed in alliance with Conservatives, some of them anyway.  But not the mere Conservative Party, which he now despises.  What Gabb says about the Conservative Party being useless is all good, but frankly most of it applies also to Conservatives generally, if they really are conservative Conservatives (see below).

I wasn’t challenged much on the above, but could have added that treating Conservatives as useless in no way seems to prevent many people who call themselves Conservatives from joining whatever libertarian choruses we are singing.  Why?  Because they too were always libertarians first, and “Conservative” purely as a label of tactical convenience.

Class war and class analysis.  To me there is something very off-putting and contradictory about “libertarian class analysis”, and talking about an “enemy class”.  Class analysis is inherently collectivist, I think.  You are reducing individuals to the level of indistinguishable footsoldiers in an army, ignoring all the subtleties and mixtures in their thinking, and sounds like you’ve given up on ever persuading them of anything.  It may make for good knockabout stuff for the entertainment of powerless third parties, who are not being treated as members of the “enemy class”.  But if your thinking is thus dominated you constantly alienate individuals whom you ought to be seeking to influence and even convert.  (Antoine Clarke, sitting beside me on the Evans sofa and chairing the meeting, reinforced this particular point strongly.)

Grand theory combined with tactical opportunism.  That’s what I believe in, rather than wasting very much time dreaming about the in-between matter of how it all might happen.  Leave that to politicians to sort out, either because they believe in doing libertarianism, or because libertarianism has become irresistible and obviously necessary, perhaps because of some kind of crisis.  It’s not that such dreams are idle, merely that they shouldn’t loom too large.  Instead we should think our big thoughts, write our big writings, and seize whatever chances come our way to spread all this in all possible directions, as and when.

In connection with the virtue of tactical opportunism, I mentioned the success of the Adam Smith Institute in the eighties and nineties.  Plus I also boasted, yet again and at rather undignified length, about my Libertarian Alliance pamphleteering activities before the internet made such pamphleteering easy and obvious.  And now there is blogging, which has created a whole new world of opportunities for libertarians, as for all other opinion mongers.

Quite a lot more was said that I haven’t the time to mention now.  Chris Tame, for instance, loomed large in the conversation, because of the influence that he had on the lives both of me and of Sean Gabb.

I want to emphasise that although Sean Gabb often makes what I consider to be mistakes of emphasis, he is himself the embodiment of many of the virtues that I most prize in a libertarian activist, seizing the opportunities presented by the internet, and generally writing beautifully, interestingly, and a lot.  I ended by reading out the whole of a recent Libertarian Alliance press release of his, starting with the heading that one of the Little Man What Now-ers gave it, the Best Press Release Ever.  (She liked it too.) Actually I don’t think it was perfect.  Kudos to Sean for naming himself as the person saying most of what it says, but then he switches at the end to “the Libertarian Alliance says” mode, and then, after a few excellent statements of libertarian principle about which we’d all agree he then reverts to writing more Gabb.  Very choice Gabb, but still Gabb.

For me the highlight of last night was meeting with a new potential member of the libertarian movement, by the sound of him, potentially, a highly talented one.  We traded early conversational blows on the topic of the J. S. Mill harm principle, the consent principle (absolutely not the same as the harm principle and as good as the harm principle is bad being what I said), before and after my talk and later in a nearby pub.  He displayed that vital libertarian activist quality of relishing a good argument.  His big question was: What can we do?  My answer: Join the movement.  I scribbled out half a page of emails and blog urls.  Connecting with people is so much easier than it used to be.  When I speak of taking opportunities, this is the kind of thing I mean.