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.
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.
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?
 David Ramsay Steele, The Purpose and Strategy of the Libertarian Alliance, Libertarian Alliance, 1981 http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/tactn/tactn001.pdf retrieved 28th November 2015
 Hans-Hermann Hoppe, The Property and Freedom Society – Reflections After Five Years, Lew Rockwell http://archive.lewrockwell.com/hoppe/hoppe24.1.html retrieved 28th November 2015