What UKIP Must Learn from the American Liberty Movement


By Robin Koerner (via dailypaul.com)

Of all of their political parties that most Brits have heard of, only UKIP – the United Kingdom Independence Party – calls itself “libertarian”.

Being only two decades old, UKIP – now polling 38% for the European elections this year and about 15% for the general election next year – has achieved a success on paper that the American Libertarian Party can only dream of.

Indeed, in my work of helping the US liberty movement achieve more success in changing the minds of the people and the politicians and policies that they support, I often point out that American activists can learn much from what UKIP has been doing right.

Both UKIP and the US libertarians form insurgent, anti-establishment movements in an early stage of development: they are both influencing and drawing strength from public dissatisfaction with the current political settlement, but have not yet made significant changes to national electoral outcomes. For example, UKIP has not a single seat in the British parliament, and only a handful of representatives in the American House or Senate self-identify as aligned with the liberty movement’s goals.

So it was with some curiosity that I attended my first UKIP meeting on a visit back to England last month.

It was a public “town-hall-style” meeting in the picture-postcard county of Devon. An audience of around 60 heard three candidates and party executives speak for about 90 minutes.

At similar meetings in the US, I am never the youngest in the room. In UKIP’s meeting in Devon, I was. So when questions were invited from the floor, I pointed out as much, and asked if UKIP, therefore, had a problem. (It does.)

Fortunately, one of the speakers was the Chairman of the party, Stephen Crowther, who responded to my question with a fair one of his own: how did someone of my age manage to get out of work on a Friday morning? (I didn’t. I was on holiday.) Later, (during the obligatory tea and biscuits at the end of any public meeting in rural England), another member of the audience offered a different explanation: older people, he suggested, were the only ones who could remember how things were before we joined the EU.

That was sincerely meant but, to me, unconvincing. After all, the younger members of the American liberty movement do not have much experience of their country when it was much freer (before the Patriot Act, NDAA, extensive state-sponsored cronyism corporatism etc.) but they don’t need it: they discover their birthright of liberty by reading their own history, the Constitution, and the work of the brilliant thinkers who developed the classical liberal tradition that excites them so much.

In fact, most of the energy that drives the liberty movement in the US is that of young adults. These men and women are becoming sufficiently numerous and their passion is sufficiently strong that the change toward liberty that we shall see in American politics over the next two generations will likely one day be seen to have had its root in this decade in much the same way that the last two generations of progressivism and Statism were rooted in the ‘60s.

In the US, speeches made at anti-establishment, pro-liberty meetings are filled with statements of the inspiring principles of individual liberty – of free enterprise, the progressive magic of real capitalism, freedom from state interference in (and surveillance of) one’s personal life, personal responsibility and the Rule of Law etc.

In contrast, the speeches in Devon consisted entirely of factual assertions and policy solutions. If it weren’t for Crowther’s utterance of three expressions at the very end of the 90 minutes – “libertarian”, “self-government” and “small government” – it would not have been clear what political principles or vision united all of the policies that had been offered. Moreover, given the lack of any exposition of those ideas as guiding principles, the only people in the room who would have known what those three terms meant were the ones who, like me, had studied them long before they found themselves at a UKIP meeting. Since neither mainstream British politicians nor the British media ever use such terms, the people in the room who knew what they meant could definitely be counted on one hand.

Of course, a political party should focus on facts and policy. But if that is all a new party is doing – especially if the policies are, albeit out of necessity, largely negative, such as pulling out of the EU, reducing immigration, and offering a political home for those who are less than comfortable with gay marriage, then those with the political idealism and energy required to turn an insurgent movement into a mainstream movement with longevity – also called young people – will be left entirely uninspired and, potentially worse, alienated.

During the following week, I spoke to quite a few Brits about UKIP. I found many quiet supporters. Their motivations were typically down-to-earth and British: skepticism of the country’s prevailing political settlement and class, a preference for people who call things as they see them, and a pragmatic desire to try new solutions to problems when the old ones have consistently failed. And there was not a bigot or racist among them.

That’s all well and good – but not enough to prevent UKIP from winning its next battle (the European elections next week) but losing the war (to save the nation’s sovereignty, and with it, a small chance of keeping the astonishing long Anglo tradition of personal liberty and common law).

In contrast, at a meeting in the US of the liberty-curious, at least one of those expressions that the party’s Chairman used at the end of his speech – “libertarian”, “self-government” and “small government” – would be not used once in closing remarks, but repeated many, many times in the exposition of an exciting, positive, restorative vision for the nation. The approach would be to clarify and emphasize the fundamental principles of liberty, and only then discuss specific policies, taking care to show why they coherently pull toward the positive, liberal vision.

Throughout history, political movements that have captured the young – and thereby secured their longevity – have inspired and impassioned, leaving no doubt about the intention to build something bigger and better than exists today.

Positive vision inspires; policies alone do not. To win in the long-run takes both.

Young activists of the American liberty movement gain passion and energy by educating themselves on their own history and their own identity as a nation that is established on liberty and established to protect liberty. In other words, the future of American freedom is not just in the imagination of a few disaffected agitators, but a continuation of a rich, deep, tradition of liberty that has elevated mankind for centuries.

The wheel of freedom does not have to be reinvented, and excited libertarian Americans draw inspiration from the fact that they are heirs to one of its most sublime political realizations. They are not only fighting for liberty: they are fighting for the best of their identity as Americans. When you know you have something wonderful, passed down over generations at great cost, you don’t give it up lightly. Not to the US federal government, and not to the European Union.

If UKIP truly is a libertarian party concerned with British identity, then it is clearly missing its biggest marketing opportunity: the American tradition of freedom IS the British tradition of freedom. To understand it is to be excited by it – to become a patriot in the best (and proper) sense. The ideas of liberty alone change lives and nations. But when they are part of one’s national identity, as they are for English-speakers everywhere, they have the power to move one to tears.

UKIP’s job must be, then, to put young British adults in touch with their classically liberal birthright of the common law, limited government, live-and-let-live, free enterprise, and resistance against the kind of lack of political accountability and authoritarianism that the EU represents, and to teach clearly how the prosperity and freedom we enjoy depend on all of them.

And of most immediate importance for UKIP’s long-term electoral chances, a party of excited, positive, liberal visionaries (which is what true libertarians are) would attract many fewer questionable reactionaries whose views can be too easily labeled racist or sexist etc. by hungry media, than UKIP does today.

Like the USA, the UK is in a potentially radical, teachable political moment. This time of uncommon dissatisfaction with the status quo is equivalently one of heightened interest in alternatives and openness to new perspectives. But it is not yet clear which way Britain will turn, if it will turn at all.

UKIP is currently the biggest party political beneficiary of this zeitgeist in the Britain. If the party doesn’t explain what those words like “libertarian” in its platform mean, how can anyone be blamed for looking at its concentration on immigration or gay marriage and, absent context, doubting that UKIP is libertarian at all? There is a classically liberal case to be made for UKIP’s stance on immigration in the current context of EU rules and the British welfare state, but it’s not an obvious one, and it’s certainly not one that can be worked out from just listening to UKIP’s policy positions. In the absence of the careful exposition of liberal principles and that case, the media will keep painting Ukippers as having questionable motivations because it’s too easy and shifts copy.

Nigel Farage talks about creating an earthquake in British politics. I hope he does. The country’s complacent social democratic establishment needs a reminder of who works for whom, and whatever the ultimate flavor of UKIP’s politics, exit from the EU will do more for British liberty per se than any other single policy currently supported by any party. But an earthquake is a rather short-lived event. What really matters is whether that political earthquake remakes Britain’s political landscape for good – in both senses of that word. And that will depend on whether UKIP really is Britain’s first classical liberal alternative since Thatcher.

If UKIP really is a “libertarian” party (and the jury is very much still out), and wishes to benefit from the inherent popularity of liberty, then it must prove it. It shouldn’t talk about pulling out of Europe without explaining the threat of all big government to liberty; it shouldn’t focus on immigrants without explaining that excessive immigration offends the British sense of fairness chiefly because of a dehumanizing welfare state and the feeling of insecurity that comes from having one’s ability to influence the politics of one’s own society removed by politicians who are foreign to it; it shouldn’t talk about wind farms without explaining the threat to efficiency and prosperity posed by subsidizing any industry at the expense of others, and it should not talk about gay marriage without being very clear that a legal commitment between loving people is not a problem – but an EU court that will use related legislation to force institutions and individuals to act against their consciences and property rights, absolutely is.

Most of all, it shouldn’t talk about any of the above without returning, again and again, to a celebration of a unique legacy of freedom, won over 1,000 years by a people that will continue to build a prosperous and liberal future, when left free to do so by a limited, accountable government that serves at the pleasure of the people – and never, ever, the other way around.

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10 comments

  • I do not believe that UKIP does formally describe itself as a Libertarian Party – it is a party that wants the United Kingdom to leave the E.U. (hence the name “United Kingdom Independence Party”). The E.U. is an additional layer of government (especially in regulations – about 80% of new regulations are the result of E.U. orders).

    Every libertarian (worthy of the name) is against the E.U. – but that does not mean that getting out of the E.U. would mean a libertarian Britain (far from it), Britain was not libertarian before we joined the EEC (as it then was) and it would not magically be libertarian if we left the E.U. (although leaving the E.U. is a vital first step towards greater liberty).

    As for the American Libertarian Party – its peak was way back in 1980 when it got 1% (yes ONE PERCENT) in the Presidential election. These days the American “liberty movement” mainly plays the role of helping the Democrats (in such States as New Hampshire) by taking just enough votes away from Republican candidates for (for example) the Governorship for the Democrats to win (the tragic defeat of Governor Benson in 2004 was the shape of things to come).

    The United States faces terrible threats – the same ones that Britain and the rest of the Western world faces. The WELFARE STATE is out of control in the Western world — military spending is about 2 or 3 per cent of GDP in most Western countries (by the time of the next election in 2016 military spending will only be just over 3 per cent of GDP even in the United States) – yet the Welfare State (health, education and income support spending) continues to expand out-of-control (the ageing population is the latest reason given – but even non age related benefits such as American Food Stamps are out of control).

    This fiscal (government spending) threat feeds into the monetary mess – as governments (via Central Banks) actively encourage credit bubble banking (rather than lending out REAL SAVINGS alone) in the desire to “go for growth” to get the economic activity to prop WELFARE STATE SPENDING (i.e. the fiscal mess and the monetary mess are linked).

    And ending immigration will not solve this problem – after all Japan does not have many immigrants and its Credit Bubble monetary system and fiscal nightmare proceeds (currently in a phony “boom” period – much like a drunk rolling out in a bar, before the hang over hits him the next morning).

    A “liberty movement” worth the name would concentrate its energies on telling those who say one does not need to cut ENTITLEMENT STATE soending as one can “go for growth” (such as Mr Stuart Varney of Fox News and Fox Business) to go jump in the nearest lake – on really seeing the main threat to the West (the effort by government to replace Civil Society in health, education and welfare for MOST PEOPLE) and working to restore Civil Society – i.e. that it is NOT the role of the State to control the health, education and welfare of the majority of the population.

    If it is accepted that MOST people are utterly unfit to look after such things as the education of their children, their health cover, their old age (and so on) then talking about “Civil Liberties” (and so on) is an utter waster of time – as one has accepted that most people are essentially in need of government help (which must bring with it government control), as German language thinkers understood as far back as the 1700s (see Hayek “Constitution of Liberty” and “Law, Legislation and Liberty”) the “Welfare State” is part of the general “Police State” (which was not seen as a negative thing).

    However it is only in modern times (predicted by Hayek back in 1960 in the Constitution of Liberty – he even predicted that the early years of the 21 century would be the point of crises) that SPENDING on the Welfare State (transformed into an effort to take over the basic needs of life for MOST people by the state) would become the main threat to the continued existence of the West.

    I was profoundly depressed that the Ron Paul campaign in 2012 did not really concentrate on the main problem (see above), I hope that Senator Rand Paul sees the main threat (the out of control “Entitlement State”) and will concentrate upon it.

  • I do not think the UKIP is liberal in the pristine sense but it has a lot of liberals in it. Most of them I have met seem to have read a lot of Rothbard, and that surprised me, and all of them were under 25, some way under 20. So if they take over, it might become liberal. I did not know that it called itself libertarian.

    UKIP is anti-Politically Correct which all the main parties have, rather stupidly, taken to their hearts. But most who attend their meetings, as well as most UKIP candidates are not one whit liberal. I believe the leader is, to some extent, but one speaker at the last meeting I attended eulogised the EU and his own enthusiastic work as an MEP. Few seemed to notice it, but he would have passed for a Liberal Democrat, the party that most supports the EU.

    As politics usually bores people, any political party or movement can expect to lack teenagers. As I said, the UKIP does not in my experience, but I expected it to do so.

    I am sceptical about what you say of the young in the past.

  • UKIP has a sticker that states, “Traditional Values – Forward Thinking” which means True Conservative in the three critical areas of fiscal, social & foreign policy/defence. I would hardly describe UKIP’s positions in these three areas as being libertarian. Nice try.

    I’ve lived in USA since the 1960’s having had a glorious childhood before that just up the London Road from Camberley, Surrey, England. Basically, there is no appetite for a libertarian party in USA. Though the term is in vogue along with bi-polar “conservatarian”, Tea Party groups remain factionalized & disunified because each seeks it’s own fundraising in an atmosphere of many chiefs & not enough Indians. But not even Tea Party types would go for the social policies espoused by libertarians which many view to be counterproductive, irresponsible & immoral. On foreign policy/defence libertarians are perilous & the Ron/Rand Paul clan is over the top eccentric.

    There is a reason why libertarians have never been elected to run a nation, & that’s because their policies are a utopian vision like anarchy or communism humans have not & probably never will evolve to achieve their dangerous cause especially in social & foreign policy/defence areas.

  • Paul
    I do not except that most people cannot look after their child’s education, their health care, or their old age. The welfare state was not by public demand, though they did fall in love with the NHS as soon as they saw it [overlooking that it has been a hospital closing programme since 1948] but they remained fairly indifferent towards the rest.

    What UKIP shows is this massive gap between the public and the very backward media that stands naked in this ideology of Political Correctness that the so-called elite accept but the public have a growing contempt for.

  • The prime reason why almost nobody in the UK under about, oh, I’d say aged 35, is interested in the historical theory of liberty is that curiosity about their nation’s on long history has been deliberately discouraged via the BritishPolitical-EnemyClass’s “education system”.

    As a scientist, I occasionally find myself teaching aspects of the (State-approved and certified) “A-level-History” “syllabus” to the occasional quite intelligent Lancashire student.

    There is no attempt in it to render them a broad sweep or joined-up picture of their country’s history – nor indeed of that of any other country that they study. Here is but one example: Czarist Russia and its slow and degenerative transition past the Bolshevik Revolution and so into the blood-drenched-sewer that it became.

    One clever boy, who’s sat a “module” yesterday, didn’t know who Bismarck, Caprivi and the various Kaisers from 1860 were. He also, furthermore, hadn’t been told about the “Kruger telegram”, and yet he’s got a “module” about “the Crimean War, the Boer War, the “Home Front” and the Liberal reforms of 1906″ (whatever they have to do with all that beats me) coming up shortly.

  • David McDonagh.

    David – I agree with you, indeed I would go further – if the state seeks to replace basic Civil Society functions for most people, eventual (de facto – if not legal) bankruptcy is assured, both economic, social and cultural breakdown.

    Even the Roman Empire only had “bread and games” for a some percentage of the population (the inhabitants of Rome and a few other cities) – not for the vast majority of the population who lived on the land.

    Supersofia – the main problem that the Tea Party movement has faced is nothing to do with the people in the movement, it is the massive (fanatical) attack the establishment (both media – and their RINO helpers) have launched upon. The normal Frankfurt School smears about racism and so on.

    The Pauls – father and so.

    Ron Paul can come off as eccentric – he sometimes speaks before he has fully considered his words (that is fine if you face a cooperative media, as Barack Obama does, as they will cover up your slips – but Ron Paul is a libertarian even the pro Republican minority of the media take pleasure in showing his mistakes to the world).;

    Senator Rand Paul is a more careful.

    I get the impression he does not see campaigning as an end-in-its-self as his father clearly does – Rand Paul wants to win.

    Whether he will win is another question entirely – but he is serious about, he wants a libertarian President and he wants that President to be himself.

    “Therefore he will not really work to reduce the size and scope of government – as the desire for power is within him”.

    Either one is serious about this “stuff” (politics) or one is not. If one is serious one must work to win – and that means supporting candidates who WANT to win.

    Rand Paul has been a Classical Liberal (on economics and on civil liberties) his entire adult life.

    Perhaps office would corrupt him, and perhaps his obvious desire to win the campaign is a sign of that.

    But let us please give the man a chance. It is pointless to campaign if you do not want to win.

    As for Britain and UKIP.

    As I have said taking the United Kingdom out of the E.U. would not (on its own) restore traditional liberties.

    But it is a necessary first step towards doing so.

    And it gets rid of a layer of government.

  • David Davis YES.

    History is a story.

    One can not (sensibly) jump about reading chapter six, then chapter fourteen, then chapter three…..

    “Modules” make no sense – because “connections” are lost.

    Either teach the story – or get rid of “A” level history.

    When I see children with folders (not books) and “worksheets” – I despair.

    Mr Gove (the Education Sec) is a hive of activity trying (with total sincerity) to make state education work.

    Interestingly he seems to be failing (at least if one talks to historians – such as yourself or a friend of mine in Hitchin) – perhaps because there is a fundamental problem with the whole enterprise………

  • “..I do not believe that UKIP does formally describe itself as a Libertarian Party…”. Oh yes it does!
    I am wary of using terms like ‘Liberal’,as they mean opposite things on either side of the Atlantic. But then, Americans drive on the ‘pavement’ while Brits walk on it. See what I mean?

  • Hugo – I stand corrected, I did not know that UKIP formally claims to be a Libertarian party.

    The claim is clearly false as UKIP policies (on government spending and so on) are not libertarian – but then the Conservative party is not libertarian either (and does not claim to be).

    However, the coming election is not about general policy – it is on whether one thinks the additional layer of government called the “European Union” is a good idea or not.

    I believe the European Union to be a bad idea.

    As does my Member of Parliament and most of the people in my part of world – and most of the membership of the local Conservative Association.

    Whether certain key committees agree with the general public (and with the ordinary membership of the Association) is another question.

    One I will not discuss on a public forum.

  • Its patently obvious that UKIP is clearly a schismatic party; its an alliance of old Conservatives (some with a big C and some without), and a good number of Libertarians/ Classical Liberals.

    The EU is anathema to both groups so its not surprising that they should coalesce in UKIP, given that the major parties (at least on the front benches) are staunchly Eu-philic.

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