David McDonagh on Chris Tame: A Dissenting View


David McDonagh

Sean Gabb comments: I appreciate David’s moderation of tone. He and Chris got on very badly after 1982, but Chris is now dead, and his personal disputes must be regarded as having died with him. I certainly regard them as dead.

This being said, I take issue with David’s general view of Chris. Without prejudice to the merits of David Ramsay Steele or Mark Brady – and I think I get on well now with both of them – Chris was an important social fact. That the libertarian movement has disintegrated since his death is because neither I nor anyone else has been good enough to replace him as a centre of gravity.

Also, he was a consistent thinker. I agree that he grew less ideological with age, and that he eventually accepted a number of propositions he rejected in his younger days. What this shows, however, is that he was aware of the context in which liberty can flourish. He could have lived as a wooden ideologue, gracing the suicidal wing of libertarianism. He chose instead to look at the facts. The points he raises in his last video interviews may be mistaken. More likely, they are provisional conclusions reached on an intellectual journey he had no time to complete.

I agree that he had a short temper, and a long memory for grudges. I agree that he lacked certain abilities that the present LA leadership both possesses and rates highly. For all this, he remains the most remarkable man I have ever known. I met him on the last Monday in December 1979. Whether for better or worse, that meeting changed the whole direction of my life. SIG

It seems to be folly to eulogise Chris Tame as the best libertarian of his day, as Sean so often does. Why should we even think him better than his slightly older friend, Mark Brady?  I think the answer to that is: there no reason whatsoever. Mark seems to have influenced Chris way more than Chris ever influenced Mark. So it seems unfair to Mark to say that Chris was better as a libertarian.

If we look at the LA journal, Free Life, we can see the merits of the LA members up till 1982 and it does not show us much from either Chris or Mark, or much from me, and I am even a bit older than Mark.

In the clip I heard, Chris speaks more like a nationalist rather than a like a pristine liberal. He speaks for England rather than for the LA.

I think the nationalists are right to blame liberals for harming the nation by advocating free trade, including free immigration.  I gave an LA talk on this a few years ago [it is on Youtube] to confess to that damage. Chris says the national state has been justified and he says mass immigration will lead to totalitarianism, to a low wage economy, that mass immigration is not free anyway as we have the welfare state, that it is more like an invasion than mere immigration, as the newcomers are hostile to British culture, that the ruling class has organised this to cow the native workers on low wages and that despotism will be the result. He was clear that he was not making an economic case but a political one, but he said that a high wage economy was needed to allow people to be confident.

I think Chris uses hyperbole and exaggerates but that he is basically right that mass immigration damages the nation but is it, thereby, illiberal?  The answer seems to be clearly not.

Nationalism and what is now called libertarianism clash.

I think nationalism can be liberal in this pristine sense but that the state and politics itself can never quite be. So Chris departs from liberalism or libertarianism when he makes a political case. But his politics here are clearly nationalist anyway. He is for protectionism rather than for free trade.

Chris cited totalitarianism and despotism but he seemed to hint rather than to make his case. That the nation is broken by mass immigration is as obvious as Chris said it was but so are many other things that liberty allows. In allowing boxing, we allow noses to get broken, for example.

Chris cites class analysis. Can that ever be liberal in the pristine sense? The answer again, seems to be clearly not. Liberalism is about persons not groups.

Even Keynes realised that lowering nominal wages owing to more workers being employed made for a higher real wage owing to increased output, but note that Chris did repeat that he did not want to make an economic case but rather a political one. He certainly was making a political case and it seems a nationalist one rather than a pristine liberal one.

It was not a strong case but then Chris never did seem good at thinking as far as I could see. It seems merely false to, repeatedly say, as Sean does, that Chris was the top libertarian of his day. He was not even better than I was. Nor, really, was even Mark, though they both did help to convert me by earlier converting my friend, David Ramsay Steele, at the University of Hull, [who clearly was better than me back then, and he has been since too], to libertarianism in the early 1970s, who converted me in the late 1970s.  He was clearly the best the LA had. I think Sean knows that and Chris certainly did.

But Chris did like publicity more any other LAer. That is what he was best at, and e was best at it by miles.

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4 comments

  • There are very few people qualified to comment on this thread. But I think I’m one of those select few.

    I had only two opportunities for a decent talk with Chris Tame. One, a half hour phone conversation in 1991. The other, an evening in 2004 in Leiden, where I took dinner with Chris and Hubert Jongen.

    I concur with Sean when he says that Chris had a short temper. I was only on the receiving end of it once; but it wasn’t pleasant. In my early days in the movement, I thought of Chris, even though he was no older than me, as like a schoolmaster. I respected him greatly, but didn’t like him very much. That was one of the things which stopped me getting closer to him than I did. (I went to boarding schools in the 1960s; so I speak from experience). Later, as he seemed to mellow, I liked him more.

    Chris did make one absolutely terrible decision; the division of power in the LA after he died. That left Sean in an impossible situation. That was one reason I (eventually) came back to Sean’s LA after the events of early 2011.

    Now, I’ve never met David Ramsay Steele, though I have read some of his writings (and what I did read was mostly good). Mark Brady I have no reference for. But David (McDonagh) claims that they are better libertarians than Sean; and, by implication, better libertarians than I am. They are still alive, no? So, why are they not still active as elder statesmen in the movement? Like Hubert Jongen still is in Holland? Or, until he died in 2008, Vince Miller was in the US?

    I’ll conclude with a quote I’ve used before on this very site. Put into the mouth of Gandalf by J.R.R.Tolkien: “We are all friends here. Or should be; for the laughter of Mordor will be our only reward, if we quarrel.”

    • Very well said:

      ‘I’ll conclude with a quote I’ve used before on this very site. Put into the mouth of Gandalf by J.R.R.Tolkien: “We are all friends here. Or should be; for the laughter of Mordor will be our only reward, if we quarrel.”

      And we are all grateful for your presence. As for disagreement over basics, toleration may or may not be integral to libertarianism, but it is a virtue in itself, and I have always endeavoured to cultivate it.

    • David’s essay is very thoughtful.
      I did not know Mark and DRS that well at the time really, so I cannot give an opinion about individual merits. I came to formal Libertarianism first by meeting and knowing Chris through the Freedom Association. He was such a fun guy, and made me laugh so much about things and issues that had troubled me. For someone where I then was, he was like a God. I jumped the _//Unbridgeable Ravine//_ from where most people are to where libertarians (think they) are, in a single leap, knowing Chris, for he taught me that it was easy and logical so to do, and so I did. Like Gandalf told the Nine Walkers to go over the chasm in Moria.
      But…
      The laughter of Mordor is the key. We all ought to be each others’ best friends really. I know that Sean knows that I am privately sad that there are two LA’s in Britain today, but I understand why there are. Sean and I are both oldish men now, and so is David, and someone else will have to fix the problem in time, if we cannot.

      The actual legal “sundering of the LA” took place using papers signed in my office in London in the early 80s when the schism took place. I remember the instant like it was a minute ago. I regret nothing, for I thought Chris was right at that time, and he was my very good and firm friend, and blood is better than water (or something like that.) But behind our backs is the laughter of Mordor, and sometimes i wish that there could be just one LA. But you can’t herd cats if they don’t want.

  • Pingback: Liberty, Nationalism and Patriotism | The Libertarian Alliance Blog

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