National Libertarian Front: Libertarianism 6. The British Movement

Sean Gabb

The resurgence of the Libertarian movement in Britain occurred in the late 1970s under the direction of Chris Thame who’s life was tragically cut short in 2006. During his life he was the key person in organising the Libertarian Alliance, which aimed not to repeat what it saw as the errors of American Libertarianism. Firstly it would not contest elections believing these to be a waste of time and effort serving only to divide the movement and exhaust the movement over matters of triviality. Secondly, the Libertarian Alliance sought to avoid the conflict endemic in the Libertarian movement such as the conflict between Objectivists and Austrians and provide a forum for genteel debate.
The Libertarian Alliance saw its role as not engaging with the masses but in targeting the intellectuals – the 5% of the population that were interested in political ideas. Taking its cue from the Fabian Society, it published scholarly articles, organised conferences, spoke at University and appeared on radio debates in the expectation that these ideas would eventually be picked up by the political classes and implemented, much like the ideas behind the Institute of Economic Affairs were eventually picked up and became the template of thatcherism.
Needless to say it didn’t, the Libertarian movement in Britain which peaked in the early 1990s has been in decline ever since with its aging membership not being replaced with young members, to the point where the pessimistic amongst them predict that eventually there will be too few living libertarians to sustain a movement and it might die just as Libertarian ideas were dead through much of the twentieth century. This decline prompted Sean Gabb in conjunction with Chris Thame to resurrect class analysis, which for many has been regarded as the preserve of marxism. They concluded that Libertarian ideas whilst true were not being given the light of the day because they were a threat to the wealth, power and status of the class of individuals who draw, wealth, power and status from an activist state.
The Libertarian Alliance, in spite of this analysis continues its strategy of courting the intellectuals even though their ideas is not in the self-interest of the many statist intellectuals suckling at the states teat. The National Libertarian Front argues that radical political change cannot be achieved by publishing a few more pamphlets rather it must engage in the sorts of visible activism traditionally associated with the ‘far right’ and ‘far left’.

Posted by KJ at 10:43

Jock Coats said…
The National Libertarian Front argues that radical political change cannot be achieved by publishing a few more pamphlets rather it must engage in the sorts of visible activism traditionally associated with the ‘far right’ and ‘far left’.
I think it’s fair to say that this is slowly happening here. Many are realizing that we need real life examples of doing without the state. You will probably appreciate that we don’t go in much for “revolutionary” agitation here!
So my focus, for example, is in creating a local “sterling free” trading network for business-to-business and business-to-customer use in my county, and market based affordable housing projects without state subsidy, as a visible example of ways in which people can work fre of the state.
In that, it’s much more of a “mutualist” (see your article on Kevin Carson later) approach of building the institutions that will one day replace the state “organically” rather than trying to persuade a naturally not very revolutionary or activist population to decide on one big momentous change (at the ballot box or otherwise).
Time will tell – people do say that gradualism is a recipe for failure, but equally, our “Overton Window” approach is well enough established.

11 July 2009 18:01
Sean Gabb said…
An interesting analysis. A brief correction: the correct spelling is Tame, not Thame.
On the matter of our strategy, we still see our purpose as providing the intellectual underpinnings for any mass movement that may one day emerge.

National Libertarian Front: Libertarianism 6. The British Movement


  • I am the blogmaster of this outfit, for my sins.

    I knew old Chris tame for many years. I think he would have been appalled, perhaps except towards the very end of his life, at the very idea of the Libertarian Alliance having something so “populist” as a blog – and perhaps he would earlier on have been opposed to the very idea of the usefulness of blogs in general, as a political weapon.

    It can’t really be determined how many people have come to the Libertarian Alliance in particular as a result of this blog, which is now nearly three years old. But what’s certain is that there is a large Libertarian blogosphere – principally centred on the USA and Canada as would be natural, but also a quintessentially British one too – some examples of which you could say are “hard-hitting” and express “strongly-held opinions”, in a “highly-developed” way.

    This could not have been forseen in the absence of a neo-fascist, GramscoFabiaNazi, all-tyrannising, all-nannying, all-surveilling British Labour Administration.

    The post above suggests that the Libertarian Alliance initially pursued a Fabian route to try to influence the prevailing political discourse. This is correct. But perhaps with hindsight we ought to have been more revolutionary, and more confrontational – although the existing political conditions would have made us stand out like raving politicos, and we might have got nowhere just as quickly.

  • We also may have, in time, to assist in the formation of a mass-movement, if it seems to be taking too long.

    As Sean Gabb correctly states, this was not part of our original strategy. But time and tides wait for no man. GramscoFabiaNazism is killing thousands and thousands of people daily, year in year out, and it could get worse.

  • Well I would argue that using the tools at hand and in the cheap, but still effective, way is always a good thing. If one wants to pursue anyone now is a good time to do it, otherwise the lefties will pick up all the craps. The best thing is to start with the young or the already so so convinced, other people are so stuck in their own little world thinking they more or less already have everything decided about politics and ideology. Work towards the long run. Also one cannot expect to pursue many people with talks about legalization of drugs or that animals have no rights, at least not in Sweden.

    And there is need for some charismatic people ending up in the news having started “illegal” clubs or refuse to pay taxes. Those things started the libertarian wave in my country at the late 80’s; start of the 90’s when I became active as young. We smashed TV’s at public squares (had State TV-monopoly until the early 90’s) and started pirate-radio while collecting money at communist meetings (acting as one of them) and did obscene things with newly built statues that the government saw fit to spend money on. Sort of anti-establishment, but not violent. Obnoxious, but not to over the top so to say. Sadly those things also needs to generate into something, if this “something” is a political party or blowing up the parliament may differ, but something also needs to come out of it in the end.

  • My belief is in reality. I have found the Libertarian thinking to be realistic. You cannot get away from reality and there is no need to do so. But most people spend their entire lives doing just that. Just when I have a spark of hope for the human race along comes another evident delusion based on people thinking in order to cossett their emotions rather than work with reality. (That’s the entry point for brain washing, mind manipulation as practised by that enemy class. But going off about classes may be another convenient hook for thinking rather than taking reality all the way down the line.) I have looked at that obfuscation of reality for a long time and watched its outworkings in places like southern Africa. Seeing the evident self-delusion I am reminded that probably the human race is doomed. But no doubt it has quite a way to go first.
    For me what I found in many of the articles on the Libertarian website simply addressed the truth, reality. So whether they wanted me or not, I knew in a sense I was home. Of course, I do not believe we have any lasting home in this world. But that is to take it further.
    I think two of the first articles that spelled out the obvious, one way or another, were Rothbard’s Anatomy of the State and Ramsay Steele on The Mystery of Fascism.
    It’s a great job that you have done. You just need to make the facts more accessible. The blog, indeed, does that. Just keep it this side of sanity. I first heard of you on Sky News, by the way.

  • Thanks. We do what we can with the time and the means available.

  • Steven Northwood

    For me, although some of the Libertarian philosophy may be unsaleable to the electorate, the LA does an excellent job of educating people in what is a fundamental, powerful (if sometimes subversive) and real point of view.

    Part of consciousness is acknowledgement, at least in true consciousness, of Libertarian philosophy. For me, sometimes I’m drawn to a belief or point of view just as much from a gut instinct as from reasoned thought or direction. You may not know, in the first instance, why Ludwig von Mises makes sense, but you hold somehow that a person such as he must certainly have sought the truth with a degree of success, and in personality terms is the kind of person you’d share a packet of gingernuts with.

    Personally I’m a bourbon creams man but Prof. Mises looks like he likes the rougher stuff.

  • Donald Meinshausen

    We in america would be interested in Hannon’s race and the results for your new Libertarian Party, UKIP or any races marked by a sharp ideological edge. In some ways British and US elections foretell each other as many in America thought that Thatcher was Reagan in drag. So please identify changes in voting trends that could happen elsewhere and I’ll make sure that it comes to the attention of american bloggers.

  • Steele’s “The Mystery of Fascism” was published by the other LA. We have two LAs, each claiming to be the schismatic closest continuer of the original pre-1982 LA. Schismatic indeed.

    Steele is a most excellent writer. It’s a shame that Chris isn’t around to compete with him.


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