The Libertarian Alliance: A Re-Statement of Purpose and Strategy

by Keir Martland 

The Libertarian Alliance was first established 36 years ago. Much has changed since then. While there is no need to revisit the basic purpose of the Libertarian Alliance – that is, to fight statism in all its forms and create a truly free society – the strategy of the Libertarian Alliance has not moved with the times, it might be argued. It is true that more activist or dynamic movements such as Agorism have developed, and there is a quasi-libertarian party in UKIP and there is, as ever, the chance of a libertarian takeover of the Conservative party. Some even argue for a retreat from the world in order to “do freedom now.”  But just as our purpose need not be redefined, nor need our basic strategy.

In 1981, in The Purpose and Strategy of the Libertarian Alliance, Strategic Note Number 1, David Ramsay Steele wrote:

In the Wealth of Nations Smith ridiculed the possibility that free trade could ever be introduced in Britain. A few decades later, it substantially had been, and the Wealth of Nations was largely responsible. Other examples include the rapid spread of Marxism in Europe before the First World War, and in recent years the sudden collapse of the monolithic Keynesian consensus. In both these cases, preparatory developments in earlier decades, which might have seemed quite inconsequential to many, were vital.

As a result of such changes, the parameters of politics shift. What was politically possible becomes politically impossible, and what was politically impossible may even become impossible to resist.[1]

From the outset, the Libertarian Alliance’s preferred strategy has been that of spreading libertarianism through eduation. Therefore, Chris Tame, Mark Brady, Judy Englander, David Davis, and David Ramsay Steele, and later Sean Gabb – who became important in the late 1980s – and others came together with the aim of converting the intellectuals in particular, who would do the rest of the work. The aim of converting the intellectuals may have been rather hopeful, but the aim was eventually modified to the aim of creating a libertarian movement which would spread its ideas through any and every medium in order to create a more libertarian political culture. They attended debates. They eventually appeared on the wireless and on the television after an initial shunning of the media. They published essays and books. They collaborated with already existing libertarian-leaning organisations such as the Institute for Economic Affairs.

And yet, 36 years later, are we noticeably freer? The answer is quite obviously “no.” Whether we would have been any less free today had not the Libertarian Alliance been formed is a matter for debate, but it is undisputable that we live in an increasingly statist country in an increasingly statist world. The immediate response, then, is that the strategy of the Libertarian Alliance over the last 36 years is to blame.

Those who criticise the method of reaching out to hearts and minds may point out that this strategy is time-consuming. This is true; it is certainly no “quick-fix” to the problems of a statist society. They may also point out that a Long March through the institutions is a very long march indeed, and this task is so immense that it is pointless to start it. I will also grant that the task is a daunting one. They may also point out that the vast majority of people are dull ignoramuses who are incapable of understanding libertarian theory in all its glory. This may well be true also. But education is by far and away the best strategy we have. Let me examine the other strategies, as categorised by Jeff Deist of the Mises Institute, on offer in turn.

The first to discuss is that of Konkin’s “counter economics” or Agorism. The idea is to create a free society through strategies such as tax evasion, the breaking of regulations, operating black and grey markets, and exploiting technological advances such as crypto-currencies. This strategy has its merits, such as the enrichment of those practicing it and the attack on the system that the strategy represents.

For the overwhelming bulk of economic life, however, as Rothbard recognised, this cannot work. While Agorism undeniably exposes the limits of the state’s power, it benefits those who practice it and no one else. Strategically it seems flawed, too. For example, if you believed in the virtues of breastfeeding and wanted more people to do it, would you therefore walk into a café and publicly breastfeed? It seems to me that a more promising strategy would be to educate the public on the merits of breast milk. Furthermore, in my own view, technology is a false hope. Technology is especially vulnerable to the state’s spying apparatus and the ultimate threat to a free economy and indeed a threat to society is the abolition of cash. The problem is that Agorism offers no alternative to the system, but merely tries to chip away at it.

Then there is the political route to liberty. Advocates of this method argue that libertarians should organise politically in parties and offer themselves up to the public for election from where it is hoped they will achieve public office and enact libertarian policies. There do seem to be vehicles for libertarian politics in the United Kingdom, with libertarian leaning MPs in the Conservative party such as Steve Baker and David Davis, and UKIP’s solitary MP Douglas Carswell also a potential ally. The UK has a ProLiberty Party and a Libertarian Party and indeed, it may not be necessary for libertarians to run as party candidates but instead as independents. This strategy is the quick-fix that many libertarians seek, quickly bringing issues to the attention of a public that thinks of politics only at election times. There is also a feeling among some libertarians that we should do politics, or politics will do us, i.e. that if we leave politics to the mainstream politicians, it will become even more statist.

However, politics is not for us. It is costly and Lord knows libertarian organisations do not benefit from state-funding like other organisations. There is also the problem of manifestos. What, for instance, is the libertarian policy on education? I personally favour an end to compulsory schooling, auctioning off the schools at a local level, and recompensing parents for the taxes they have paid. However, you might prefer an education voucher scheme or a return to selective education. Another libertarian might prefer to continue with the current education reforms and bring forward the academisation targets of the present government. My point is that there are various methods of bringing about more freedom in any given area and any method that does this is perfectly legitimate. So, how do we settle the question of the libertarian policy on education? What had previously been a plethora of perfectly legitimate methods now becomes a set of rival stances which will be bitterly debated. The result is to divide the movement unnecessarily.

More fundamentally, democracy is a game that only statists can win. Democracy politicises society in a way that it is not compatible with libertarianism. We do not believe that there should be a “libertarian position” on smoking, but due to the attack by the state on smokers’ rights, we are forced to put forward our position. Of course, our position is “politically impossible” because the statist game can only be won by promising to eradicate cancer. The politicisation of every aspect of life means that elections are won by answering a series of questions, for which most libertarians have no “adequate” answers.

In Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart stumbles across Galt’s Gulch. The leading businessmen, artists, philosophers, and other great men and women had decided to withdraw from mainstream society, forming Galt’s Gulch to avoid the machinations of the state. Similarly, in the 11th and 12th centuries, appalled at the worldliness of most clerics, with Lanfranc and William the Conqueror, Theobald and Henry II, and Suger and Louis VII in an unholy alliance of Church and State, a monastic revival took place in Western Europe. The aim of the new Cistercian monks was the creation of a new, purer Church, free from the filth of the state. Should we imitate them?

The argument for a libertarian strategic withdrawal from the world is simple. Like Agorism, it is for those who want freedom now. It is a strategy that can, and does, take many forms. Doug Casey, of Casey Research, imitating John Galt, has established ‘Casey’s Gulch’ in Argentina, David Friedman’s son Patri has made some advances on the sea steading front, and in September of this year I met the President of ‘Liberland.’ Not exclusively libertarian, but retreat strategies nonetheless, there’s Crass’ ‘open house’, those living off-grid, the magazine Loompanics, the prepper movement, or choosing to leave the country or simply not follow the news.

Yet this strategy is, like Agorism, unlikely to have a profound impact on the size and scope of the states which tyrannise the general populace. Not only that, but can you imagine living with fellow libertarians in an off-grid open house, or in a micro-nation in central Europe? Libertarians are often very dull people; living with them is my idea of Hell. And cutting one’s self off from the outside world is surely a curious way of bringing about a free society?

The strategy of reaching out to hearts and minds remains the best strategy we have for bringing about the free society. There are numerous ways in which this strategy can be fulfilled, whether via social media, academia, university societies, pop culture, or conferences. The aim has to be to educate such a large percentage of the population that the state can no longer complacently rely upon what Ayn Rand called “the consent of the victim.”

Education must be our primary focus because ideas, culture, public opinion determine politics. Libertarians aren’t winning today because of the Cultural Marxist takeover of the institutions, academia, the arts, and much else, as detailed in Sean Gabb’s Cultural Revolution, Culture War. This must be reversed. We must go on a Long March through the institutions. We must write books. We must write songs. We must engage in debates. We must get on television and radio. We must take advantage of the opportunities presented by the digital age for the sake of education and not treat technology as an end in itself. We must spread our loathing of the state and politicians. We must spread the view that the state is:

an institution run by gangs of murderers, plunderers, and thieves, surrounded by willing executioners, propagandists, sycophants, crooks, liars, clowns, charlatans, dupes and useful idiots – an institution that dirties and taints everything it touches.[2]

Ultimately, we may not feel the benefits personally, we may not reap the benefits in our lifetimes, we may feel at times that the strategy is futile, but reaching out to hearts and minds is still the best strategy we have for bringing about the free society. Apart from running scared or running for office, what else can we do?


[1] David Ramsay Steele, The Purpose and Strategy of the Libertarian Alliance, Libertarian Alliance, 1981 retrieved 28th November 2015

[2] Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Property and Freedom Society – Reflections After Five Years, Lew Rockwell retrieved 28th November 2015

41 thoughts on “The Libertarian Alliance: A Re-Statement of Purpose and Strategy

  1. I see it as creating a coherent critique, even thought society may not be listening at the moment. In the end, unless you enjoy reading and writing about such things, there is no need to be involved. You’ve got to get enjoyment out of what you’re doing now.

  2. The problem here is that Keir starts by observing that this strategy has not worked in 36 years and then concludes that we should carry on with it anyway because “what else can we do?”. This is not a very optimistic outlook. It also occurred to me while reading this that Keir is quite young, and long term plods are more appealing to those with a life ahead of them than those of us who look back on more behind us than in front. It’s all very well spending one’s life crafting a gift for the future generations, but what the hell have the future generations ever done for me?

    Jokes aside, I’d like to see some progress in my lifetime. I seriously wonder whether on current trends there will even be a civilisation left to reintroduce to liberty within a few more decades. 36 years without success is not an indicator of future success. The Feminists (for instance) went from half a dozen women around a kitchen table in Brooklyn to civilisational influence in a decade, and hegemony in about the same time period as we are discussing. Now that’s success.

    My own position has been for some time that we lose because we have failed to understand what war we are fighting, and who the enemy are, a bit like Mr Cameron and Syria. He wants to defeat somebody, but he has no idea who, why or how.

    This might be a good excuse for me to write an essay if anyone is interested in my blatherings.

      • We did not want to rely on the media, but it was not a total shun, as I explained in my expanded comment.

        However, words in that expanded reply were spot selected and wiped out, [a problem I have had on my last two machines now. One such word was bright when I said the intellectuals in the 1981 statement did not need to be particualy bright. THere might be others.

  3. As shown by opening the University system to 50% of the population, most people are too dumb to benefit from much in the way of education. That’s why slavery was such an enduring human institution and it why has to be kept alive in an occult form today. We are slaves not free men.
    “I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
    Harriet Tubman

  4. Keir Martland says that Chris Tame wrote the policy statement. That is false. It was D.R. Steele.

    We did not seek to appear on the media but we deliberately shunned it, as we did political parties. D.R. Steele feared, most of all, demoralisation in aiming for immediate success. We needed to keep going over the decades. It has only been three and a half decades so far. It is going to take many decades yet.

    Intellectuals are more likely to take ideas seriously. But actually it was the active natural propagandists rather than only the intellectuals that were the target group. They do not need to be particularly, but they do need to be extravert or outgoing. This stance mildly, but not totally, shunned the ephemeral media but more so the political parties as the former got liberal propagandists to expect too much success too soon and thereby courted that demoralisation but political parties might lead to too much wasted time on merely in winning power to ends that were almost bound to be anti-liberal.

    We were not for a complete shunning of the media or political parties as places to put over pristine or classical liberalism that we called by the longer word of libertarian as neo-liberalism innovated statism via Joseph Chamberlain and he converted all the younger MPs in the Liberal Party in the 1880s but then left owing to Gladstone’s conversation to Home Rule for Ireland.

    None of us have done as much as many of us expected to do in 1981. We have all done way less. But had we all did way better since then, if we did more rather than less than we expected, would the UK be more free today?

    I doubt it, but there would be a way bigger LA today though. The idea is to win a majority for liberalism; or at least the more won over the better. With a liberal public, both major parties can be punished at elections by democracy, liberals could vote for tax cuts is to negate the negation of tax based coercion. But more liberals may think of many other things to advance the cause.

    Anyway, it is good to see Keir Martland basically endorse the 1981 outlook. Despair over this long task is still the big problem it was back then. I think revolution is the stuff of myth anyway but liberalism accepts the basic market system that we have today; but only seeks to first roll back then get rid of government, or the state. So no alternative to the basic system is needed for our liberty. Complete free trade will do. But that requires no state whatsoever.

    Politics is statism. I cannot become more or less coercive, as such, but it can leave more aspects of life alone. This is what it should do. Politics is not for us, as it is against liberty. But we can use a bit of it to try to roll it back e.g. we can push for tax cuts. That is to negate the negation, if I may say so, with apologies to the famous statist, Fredrich Engels. A vote to remove coercion is not normal democracy; as it is not coercing others by voting but rather only removing taxation to fund state coercion.

    I can only feel contempt for Ayn Rand’s books. But I have to admit she was a successful propagandist. But does the means truly justify the ends? Well, her means were not one whit illiberal for books are free of coercion, even if I do not like them.

    Henry VI is a past King of England who did not want to be illiberal towards others. He was called mad! But practical politics is no good in civics, even though it is vital to the state, for society needs a liberal base to work at all. We need to respect the liberty of others in the main, to pass strangers freely in the streets, and the like, otherwise we will have massive problems.

    I have not found LAers to be very dull. I do note that any such ideological groups very soon contain all types of people. Ideas are not good things to use identify with as they attract many different types all too soon.

    But free trade is pristine liberalism; not going off to form a commune.

    I do not think culture matters much. Any assumption will do to debate with and wider culture hardly matters at all. Sean Gabb gave a very inept, but very welcome, as usual, talk to the LA this year that was most unrealistic. I attempted to follow up it with a bit of more realistic criticism of it. I would say there was exactly no need for songs, but nor would I say they were harmful. They are just not vital. Debate is.

    So let us “keep right on till the end of the road”, as they used to sing in at least one part of Birmingham city.

    • 1. Thank you for your kind words, David.
      2. I had already corrected the error of ascribing the 1981 document to CRT rather than DRS by the time of your comments.
      3. Some interesting clarifications re: the initial aims of the LA’s Founding Fathers.
      4. It’s surely vital that we take advantage of all methods of propaganda, no?

      • From what I’ve read over the years, it seems to me that the LA was trying to “get the intellectuals” to quite the probably apocryphal Willi Munzenberg quote, like the Marxists. What hardly anyone has taken into account is that the Marxists failed at that as well. As Sean pointed out, Marxists have had about as much influence as Trainspotters.

        I sometimes feel that many Libertarians are rather close to Marxism in fact- not least in many agreeing that everything is superstructural to economics, then just arguing about which is the better mode of production and who should own the means of production. And then constructing dizzyingly detailed future utopias on top of that (which are always in the distant future, it is a long road ahead, etc etc).

        Meanwhile, the New Left abandoned all that, took control of the moral discourse in society, and achieved complete success in two generations. There are those who argue that we should not use the stratagems of our enemy, but it seems to me that this is rather like saying the Allies shouldn’t deploy massed armoured columns because that nasty Mr Hitler invented them.

        • As much as many of you behave like intellectuals, sadly it can put people off as they are looking for straight forward answers instead of ‘clever’ answers that could confuse someone who is new to politics.

          I don’t class myself as an intellectual, but I do have a clear understanding of the majority of political philosophies and I do manage to explain my political beliefs in the simplest of terms.

  5. As someone who has tried to push libertarianism in a number of channels—through a widely-read and deeply offensive blog (which I know converted a few tens of people); through pushing libertarianism in, and writing policies for, UKIP; to helping start the UK Libertarian Party—I can say that the main problem is that the majority of UK people do not take to the philosophy.

    The blog became hard work to continue writing (and started threatening my real life work); UKIP has edged back to more statist policies in order to win votes (especially in the north); and the LPUK has never really gained traction (partly because it is under-funded, and run by part-time amateurs who, like most libertarians, rather despise the political process that they are nominally part of).

    So, what is it that the British people do not like about our philosophy? The answer is rather interesting—and gleaned from my (admittedly random and anecdotal) surveys of people in pubs.

    People are worried about the effects of a smaller state on other people.

    I have spoken to people that are pretty poor, and many who are in receipt of benefits. Some have been aggressive, some dense—but most not. Most people would prefer that the state would leave them alone: most proudly (and perhaps unrealistically) opine that they could make a living without benefits, because they are capable people.

    But what (they say) about the really poor people? What will happen to them—how will they cope? Today, these “poor people” are as mythical as the rich, top hat-wearing, cigar-chomping capitalists of Victorian yore: but it these people that ordinary British people become concerned about when one discusses the shrinking of the state, and the curbing of Welfare.

    As such, two things need to be done:

    * there needs to be a comprehensive libertarian philosophy of welfare. For me, this is based on voluntary contributions, along the lines of the successful Friendly Societies of the late 19th century (and which were destroyed by the introduction of state National Insurance in 1911). A development of this policy enables libertarians to answer the worries of the “man in the pub”;

    * libertarians need to find a way to communicate to the “man in the pub”—because there are vastly more of them than there are libertarians (currently), and hugely more than there are academics. And the man in the pub most certainly does not read academic treatises.

    The way into the discussion of libertarianism should be based on the ideas that the state interferes too much in our day-to-day lives (the man in the pub often likes a smoke, and he certainly likes a drink), and that the promises that the state makes cannot be counted on. If the state promises you welfare, what guarantee do you have that it will deliver? As Lando Calrissian said, “this deal just gets worse.”

    People are surprisingly libertarian for themselves, but they are also surprisingly worried about these mythical poor people—an underclass whose existence the media and the government have an interest in perpetuating.

    Anyway, that’s my take on it. For what it’s worth.


    • I got to agree with most of the things you have said on here. However, it’s going back to this issue of what sort of libertarians are we? A good start would be where we all agree that we want a minimal state, lesser laws, binding referenda and economic freedom.

      Then there would be the hard part whereby we could all go our separate ways in terms of policy making for the minimal state. For example, you might want gay marriage, I say marriage should be de-nationalised and left to religious and secular groups knowing deep down that marriage is between one man and one woman. Another example would be where you could agree that mutualism is the best way forward for making money, I would disagree by saying that businesses are best suited to creating our wealth.

      It’s these differences that could put people off libertarianism but one thing I do know is that we have to put the basics into action before we start discussing the best policies for the country.

      • I would generally, these days, call myself a “minarchist libertarian” or “classical liberal”.

        Either way, I don’t really think that a libertarian government should have any policy on whether mutuals or businesses are best for making money—after all, even our very statist governments don’t bother getting into that debate.

        And, yes, the state shouldn’t dictate what marriage looks like. But it does because it bases some state benefits on defining what marriage is: remove those benefits, and then the state has no business defining marriage.

        As I have frequently outlined, the Welfare State puts us *all* in hock to the state—which gives it licence to define our actions. Remove state welfare, and you remove any moral or economic justification for the state to dictate how we live our private lives (as long as we do not initiate force or fraud against someone else’s life, liberty or property).

        How many times have you heard some draconian policy justified because “it costs the NHS money”? The Welfare State is the crux of statism—and thus dealing with it *must* be the priority of those who are anywhere on the libertarian spectrum.

        Removing it should be a uniting force for our movement: to do that, we need to describe how we would avoid people starving on the streets, etc. All of these are more important to the general people (and voters) of this country than abstract wibblings about esoteric policies that no one understands or cares about.


        • If you’re saying that we should get rid of the welfare state, I would agree with you. However you have to admit that it’s case of weaning the public off it than just snatching it away. I also agree that you should only keep public healthcare for A+E purposes and nothing else.

          As for people starving on the streets, we should only help those who are prepared to help themselves because these people can be very hungry to prove themselves despite their unfortunate circumstances.

    • The may say they’re worrying about the other guy but in reality they’re talking about themselves. Read any justification by a statist for the welfare state at gunpoint and # 1 is, “You’re gonna need it yourself one day”.
      Like I said people are slaves and they’re easily diverted by bread and circuses.
      Absolutely yes though on coming up with a coherent philosphy… I don’t see any of that at the Libertarian Alliance blog though!

      • …and of course as to philosphy: I don’t count myself as a libertarian even though I passionately believe in individual liberty and natural rights. I’m against the concept that the state has the only moral legitimacy on the initiation of violence. On the other hand, as Putin is reputed to have said, “If you know there’s going to be a fight then swing the first punch.” In the real world, NAP doesn’t fly. So what that makes me I don’t know.

      • This is my point: most statists are those who are confident that they will never need to resort to the state’s benefits. That’s why they say that “*you’re* gonna need it”.

        But my point is that most people in this country—which is to say, most working class people—are not statists.

        • I think most ordinary people like the idea that if they fall ill, they’ll get medical care, even if it’s not that good. Most libertarian theory gets knocked down by the “who will pay for Granny’s hip replacement?” question.

          Which is why we really need to focus more on restoring liberties rather than abolishing State services, and saying that a Libertarian economy will reduce the need for welfare (for instance) to levels currently unimaginable, raising living standards, and so on. The other thing is that getting rid of petty State interference is rather easier than reorganising the entire economy. You can abolish smoking restrictions with one bill in Parliament. And so on.

    • I think almost anyone can make a living on the market. So the pub’ talkers were most likely both realistic and right on that. But also anyone can all too soon feel dependent on state supplements too, as all those on tax benefits only since Brown introduced them since 2006 do already.

      As politics is despicable, it is good that many people despise it. Pristine liberalism is anti-politics and no more part of politics than atheism is a part of religion.

      What would happen to the very poor is that they would become better off with way less state “care”. It is clearly wasteful. A merry go-round, Cameron,[or Blair II], calls it but it is clearly a misery go- round.

      We could talk more of Friendly Societies.

      Some of us do already talk to men in the pub’s.

      But the “intellectuals” DRS had in mind in 1981 might just be some of those men in the pub’s and maybe better they were called out-going extraverts; or opinion formers. His problem was demoralisation and his solution was to lower the expectations of immediate success. Someone here eulogised the success of Feminism but there are more libertarian discussion forums on the Internet there are Feminist ones, as I said to Sean after his pessimistic LA talk in reply here; earlier this year.

      Most academic books are not really worth reading.

      Yes, most people are basically liberal. This is the land of John Locke, after all. Most of the poor can look after themselves but many of the others will freely aid the few who cannot.

  6. The problem I believe that has been noticeable on here is that there has been too much ‘thinking’ and very little ‘doing’. It’s alright to be writing documents and books expressing our ideas but at the end of the day, if hardly anyone is paying attention, then we should not be surprised when statism has power in this country.

    The Libertarian Party UK is not exactly serving a purpose as they are not doing much in a way of going public with their ideas. Most of the secular libertarians in UKIP are losing their way because their ideas are not being backed up.

    Keir, I have to ask what your intentions are in the future because you are a very young man with a clear set of libertarian policies (paleolibertarianism to be more specific) and that you seem to have a clear idea of what has gone wrong. I would advocate the fact that if you notice something is wrong, a clear idea has to be made on what needs to be put right going forward.

    I have to agree with the public that when we say the word ‘Libertarian’, it is a very loose term that could mean anything and that is why it is not taken seriously in politics. I don’t define myself as a libertarian in a general sense, I define myself as a ‘Fusionist’ and a ‘Christian Libertarian’. Sadly, there is no party that really shares the same views and beliefs as myself so I have to make the best of what I have got.

    My solution is for all of us to be open about what we define as ‘libertarian’ and to be open more to the general public expressing our policies and how they would bring real freedom and liberty.

  7. I agree with the main focus of the article. Education is the only viable long term strategy. That said I have two further points.

    1. Politics is only an overflow of religion. Religion is what forms our worldview as it deals with the ultimate questions of who we are and what our purpose. We only know our responsibilities to each other by knowing our purpose and from that form our political beliefs. The political changes we have seen in Britain over the past 200 years are due to a simple change in religion from Christianity to humanism, and humanism in my view always leads to statism. That means the political arena will change when the religion changes again.

    2. Once we have a sufficiently educated group of libertarians there are various ways we can opt-out of the statist system. We form communities based on ideals antithetical to the state, we home-school our kids, we provide state-free charity and support, state-free health care, private pensions etc. We secede from the state in every available area. Then campaign for full secession, forcing a race to the bottom in taxes and regulation.

  8. Another idea is to allow more people from all walks of libertarian opinion (including myself) to contribute blogs on here. That would be nice.

  9. Pingback: RRND - 11/30/15 - Thomas L. Knapp -

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