Sean Gabb – “British Libertarianism: An Artistic Vacuum?”

Keir Martland

Here is Sean giving quite an upbeat speech to the Other Libertarian Alliance on Tuesday 17th March.

27 thoughts on “Sean Gabb – “British Libertarianism: An Artistic Vacuum?”

  1. I’ve listened to Sean’s talk, but not all the questions. The audio could do with being better, in particular I couldn’t understand about 75% of what the man sitting next to Sean was saying.

    Anyway, I agree with Sean’s talk. But I also think there is an additional reason for the failure of the past four decades, which is that I think libertarianism has failed to identify who the enemy is, which is what I’ve been trying to do of late. You can reasonably argue (or not, whichever) that libertarianism did have success- even “win”- in killing socialism, as definable as an economic system in its traditional sense. Though one could equally declare that it killed itself, and had done by the time Thatcher came to power. Except perhaps in Scotland.

    It thus might have seemed reasonable that with The Enemy defeated, liberty should rise. My own view is that what it revealed was that The Enemy wasn’t socialism itself at all, and that the real Enemy was already rising to absolute ascendancy, and if anything the destruction of socialism cleared the way for it to do so. Whatever we now live under, it is not socialism. Nor is it libertarianism.

    You cannot defeat an enemy until you know who they are.

    • Sean is right. Bizzare to hear other speakers say that culture is an irrelevance… the full spectrum dominance of the BBC does not impact politics in this country?? What planet are they living on exactly?

      An artistic narrative of compelling power. Worth remembering that one.

      Certainly, our rulers do not regard culture as an irrelevance. Indeed, they are in the process of establishing systems of control that will mean practically the only sort of entertainment that gets financed is “their sort of entertainment”.

      Recently, I’ve been doing some research into British film (I could discuss this subject at length, if prompted), and it is very interesting to note the kinds of films that receive tax-payer subsidies nowadays. Hollywood films made at Pinewood and Sheperton (did you know that The Dark Knight, X-Men: First Class and Captain America – that’s right, Captain America – are “British films”?) and domestic productions that accord with the politically-correct multicultural ideology of the present ruling class (Pride, Belle, Made in Dagenham, etc.).

      Interestingly, the present “conservative-led” (Ha. Hahaha… aha) government has redefined the points-based system (known as the Cultural Test) that determines what is and what is not a British film – i.e. what films are eligible to receive tax payer subsidies and tax rebates – to make it even more inimical to the prospect of an organic British culture. For instance, European productions, which need not even be made in the English language, can now recieve the designation “British film”, provided that at least 15 percent of their budget is spent in this country – probably hiring one of the visual effects houses that have grown up in London over the last 10 to 15 years.

      Furthermore, it is now necessary for every British production that applies for state handouts – that would be all of them – to pass an “equality and diversity” test to ensure that sufficient women, gay people, black people, Asian people, poor people and disabled people are either the subject of the film, appear as performers, or worked behind the camera.

      These policies are much more extreme than even New Labour dared to countenance and they have been implemented without a peep of critical comment… When I pitched the story (several separate stories, actually) to national newspapers, my emails were ignored and my phone calls not returned.

      • I think the basic reason for people saying that culture is an irrelevance is that many Libertarians (we might say “of the classic type”) agree with Marxists that everything is superstructural to economics- or, more specifically- to the means of production and ownership thereof. They therefore believe- again like Marxists- that our goals can be achieved simply by choosing the correct mode of production (private ownership of the means of production in a free market). Everything else, being superstructural to that, will then magically fall into place.

        So, just as for a Marxist, socialism becomes defined as communal ownership, liberty becomes defined as private ownership, and nothing else matters.

    • One could say that every movement begins with people without influence, presenting talks to each other in small rooms, ignored by the outside world. If it is still doing that 40 years later, something is wrong. If you compare the progress of other movements- such as Feminism, Gay Rights or Environmentalism- over the same time period, the contrast is clear. It is not enough to merely “keep the flame alive”.

      • I should add that I think your identification of the “enemy” is largely correct. The big sticking point is the “puritan” word. Though it is right in many ways, it is wrong in others, owing to its strong association with an historical period circa the English civil war. I was wondering if “authoritarian” would do it? The enemy certainly are authoritarian, in their means and in their ends ends, but that does not quite express their relentless busybodyness… It is not enough that they control all of the institutions, everyone must think like them… maybe we are not going to do better than puritans…

  2. Here is an alternative recording that has better audio:


    A speech given on Tuesday the 17th March 2015 in London to the other Libertarian Alliance.

    Sean argues that libertarianism has had no impact in Britain since the 1980s because libertarians have concentrated on abstract economic arguments at the expense of cultural engagement. We face a ruling class that has hegemony both in high art and in popular culture. If we want to make any progress, we need to be looking at an artistic and cultural challenge to the current order of things.

    This is an audio only upload

  3. Sean has spoken well here.

    He echoes a thought I have taken away from many libertarian meetings I have attended. (Including LA conferences in the past.) There is lots of intellect, lots of knowledge. But very little understanding.

    And he’s right that we need to change the culture. And yes, we need novelists and musicians and playwrights and…

    But there’s a big problem; which Sean has the guts to admit. Libertarian novels and music and plays don’t sell in the current culture. (I know this from personal experience; how many copies of my novel “Going Galactic” have I sold? It was 15 at the last count). That’s why Richard Blake’s novels, as Sean admits, aren’t libertarian.

    Second subject: I switched off after 30 minutes. I – and I suspect I’m not alone – simply don’t have time or energy to listen to audios. I could read in 10 minutes a transcript of a two-hour speech and Q&A; and I’d have done that in this case if I had a transcript. I’ve missed the last two “LA Question Times” for the same reason.

    Third subject: Ian B‘s first comment on this thread is excellent. I’m working on his question, too.

    • Just as a counterpoint, I thoroughly enjoy long audios – speeches, debates, panel discussions, podcasts, etc. – as I can generally listen to them while getting on with something else. They are especially good when travelling or cooking.

      • I’ve of late been watching/listening to Yale lectures on YouTube; currently, the Introduction To The New Testament with Dale B. Martin. I could get the info by reading, but I actually rather like being talked to by a lecturer on that kind of subject. Keith Wrightson’s course on Tudor and Stuart England was also very good.

    • Well, as to the LAQT’s, like any discussion whether people will listen will depend on whether the discussion is entertaining, which perhaps we are not doing well at so far. It’s not intended though to provide the same sort of experience as reading an article.

      Where the imparting of information is key, I agree that reading is much better than listening- not only faster, but random access too. I have been learning to use the 3D software Blender, which being open source is not well documented. So, much of the information has to come from tutorials created by individuals. The problem there is that it is much easier to do a video tutorial than write an instructional article, so one has to sit through endless people talking on Youtube, telling you things you already know or don’t want to know, whereas an article you can skip down in seconds to see if it has the information you need.

      But, we are a more and more visual and audio culture. We need to participate in that. I think the other thing with a Question Time is that a large part of it depends on whether you’re interested in the particular person who is speaking. For instance, I am looking forward to what Keith Preson has to say this week, since although I disagree with him on a lot of things, as a libertarian (or pan-anarchist or whatever) thinker I am interested in him as an individual.

      The other thing of course is that BBC QT has people of oppositional views who are going to argue about things, which makes for a bit of spectacle. David Starkey vs. Harriet Harman, for instance. We’re all trying to get along. That doesn’t make for such compelling viewing.

    • I share your opinion. I have trouble watching videos, unless they are of some piece of music I currently like. Talking head videos get a 30 second skim if they’re lucky. This being said, other people like them, and we should be aiming at full spectrum coverage.

  4. Sean and I are at least agreed here that Eamonn Butler should not write books about Austrian Economics.

    I say this because he misrepresents the Misesian wing of the Austrian School as extremist anarchist cultists who don’t take into account ’empirical evidence’.

    Sean says this because he thinks we’ve done Austrian Economics to death.

    I’m inclined to agree with him on that as well.

  5. I have wondered to myself, in the Nissen Hut of the Chimpanzee Type-Writers (possibly to be joined by Keir’s baboon families), for years, about this very thing.

    The point about GramscoFabiaNazis (that’s what the bastards are, sorry – I will continue to continue to remain as me, myself, calling them objectivistically-bad names) is that they, being smelly and nasty unemployable scumbag mass-murderers not making things or knowing how to, had been given by us all the time in the world. They use this time using our tax monies, in a system instituted by themselves ostensibly for “poor people”, to simply mess about designing the destruction of the West, because they were smelly failures with halitosis and BO who nobody liked and who couldn’t have got jobs as shop-assistants or the customers would have fled in the buggers’ mouths’ gas-outings. (Google “Shirley Williams” for more data – I don’t know but she was a bad sufferer in the late 70s. She certainly had an (chemical) “aura” about her on the Grunwick Picket Line….)

    Using “high art”, using “culture”, using “music”, using “edgy television”, using in fact all the stuff and content that can only be subjectively judged, to be either “good” or else “shit” – and only by one person at a time.
    By getting “their people” into place, the effectively captured the “media” also. Our backs were turned in the 1980s because we were all either too busy trying to earn livings, or too young. By about the mid-90s. the damage was done, and then Tony Blair appeared…

    It’s really not clear what the future holds for liberalism. Personally, I favour ditching the word “libertarian”.

    Let me say that properly. I favour ditching and disowning the word “LIBERTARIAN”.

    I favour recapturing the word LIBERAL from the enemyclass of the GramscoFabiaNazis. It’s our property, it means what we mean, we invented it and they STOLE IT. We must “regain what has been stolen.” “Liberal” means “in favour of liberty”. “Libertarian” does mean that but it sounds bad and dodgy and wrong, and has also been captured by “anarchist libertarians”, which is to say: another awfully-repellent batch of Nazi authoritarian leftoid psychopaths – which is why ti now simply will not do. Never try to defend ground you cannot hold; never “reinforce failure”.

    It sounds too much like “libertine”, which everyone has been ordered to be told that they must believe is a very, very, perverted and bad and very right-wing thing to be, which rather supports Ian-B’s theory about the Puritans.

    We should be “The Liberal Alliance”. Or, simply, THE LIBERALS. This should be “THE LIBERAL BLOG”.

    • Having worked in marketing (and not like the Alan-Sugarbabes either!) I know that a _complete strategic brand repositioning_ of something, is a big thing to do.

      Really, it is the sort of thing that only the “Group Marketing Director” of a rather large firm composed of multiple-SBUs (“strategic business units”, which is to say: smaller actual firms wholly owned and managed by his employer) would be allowed to even contemplate, let alone articulate publicly in a meeting….

      This man, today, in Europe, would be earning about £475,000-£600,000 a year plus “performance-related bonuses applied as shares”.

      But I urge everyone to really deeply consider a _real dropping_ , for ever – at least this side of the Atlantic, if we want to ultimately succeed – of the word “Libertarian”.

      We are “liberals”, and the enemy stole our clothes, and they are _not_ liberals. Therefore, the clothes ultimately don’t fit them. We need to get back the old and honest word “liberal” for ourselves.
      And not “classical-liberal” or “minimal-statist”…. for these concepts are far, far too complex now for ordinary normal people of the sort that we have to influence in their millions, and rather fast. The GramscoFabiaNazi deliberate damage to education has been already done, and it was deliberate which is to say on purpose, and we cannot reverse it inside two or three generations. At least “liberal” sounds like what it says. “Libertarian” sounds like all the sorts of “***-arian” blokes that wanted to do “***-arian” things that people probably didn’t like, to societies that liked themselves.

      In short, we need to become “popular”.

    • I have the baboons on zero-hours contracts, David. They helped out during the mad rush when DJ Webb upset everybody. When we need them, they are there. They also work for the Ayn Rand Institute on a similar arrangement.

  6. David Davis and Lost Leonardo-

    I entirely agree with David about taking back “liberal”, though I am not actually sure that we have actually lost it. The Americans have lost the word, but we are not Americans. I have increasingly swapped to just using “liberal”, for instance in Telegraph comment threads and other blog discussions, since “our” usage of the word is very easy to explain and defend when people dispute it, and it often causes amusing consternation among establishment illiberals. Besides all else, “libertarian” seems woefully anachronistic when talking about historical figures like John Locke or JS Mill. I think we should all just get used to “liberal”, and particularly ensure that we don’t qualify it with “classical”, it makes us sound like we’re referring to Ancient Greece. Besides all else, because it is a useful adjective- “I have a liberal view on [X]”. If you want to really upset a progressive feminist, by the way, call her an ultra-conservative. It sets them reeling.

    So, what should we call our opponents? Lost Leonardo worries about “puritan”, and it did bother me, and I cast around for something else, but it has grown on me. It may not be useful in every situation, but it is useful in many. It has several advantages; firstly by discussing a struggle between liberal and puritan values, it sets us in a broad historical cultural narrative (which I at least believe is historically justified). Secondly, it is a word that people already know. You see it commonly used. Thirdly, it is perjorative; it was coined as a negative term (by non-Puritans) and has never lost that negative connotation. It implies a joyless negativity and a zealotry therein; and we can bark it out as quickly as the old Commies used to bark “fascist” as an instant putdown without having to spend ten minutes explaining what we mean (unlike Cultural Marxist, or the delightful but not commonplace GramscoFabiaNazi). And fourthly, it puts the average young “progressive”- who likes to pretend they are a hip-swingin’ liberal radical- on the defensive.

    But whether or not people like the Puritan Hypothesis, I am very much of the view that the best word we can use for ourselves is “liberal”.

  7. Back on the general culture point, if we need anything it’s liberal (did you see what I did there?) film makers. Currently, the default Hollywood dystopia is one in which the future is controlled by Evil Corporations who impoverish and oppress everyone; invariably economically incoherent since they never explain who, if everyone is a pauper living in shanty towns, actually buys the corporations’ products. A similar astonishing example was the recent Lego Movie, whose evil villain was called “Lord Business”; a movie made to sell the, um, products of a, er, big corporation.

    If we need anything, it’s movies that depict the future tyranny as a politically correct Hell of oppressive regulations. I have myself an outline for such a story, which depicts a society at the endpoint of Feminism. But that’s the problem I suppose; even if my script were any good, who would dare produce it?

    • Ian, you’d probably have to look to some Americans like Joss Whedon, or Matt Stone & Trey Parker. They at least seem to be able to produce libertar….er…liberal-leaning films & TV.

  8. Wheedon is an arch-femmi stooge. His films are full of scrawny females who-in real life-couldn’t knock the skin off a rice pudding, battering large thugs from pillar to post. His shows are full of cliched nasty abusive men and rapists getting their come-uppance at the hands of heroic fems. At least the women are physically attractive rather than Dworkin lookalikes but expect little from Wheedon.

  9. Pingback: The importance of being frivolous – how to inject our message into art | The Libertarian Alliance Blog

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