A Reply to Sean Gabb on the EU Referendum


A Reply to Sean Gabb on the EU Referendum

(In response to this essay)

First, let me apologize for being late to this particular party. I was in Morocco for almost a week, with both much going on, and a slow Internet connection.

Let me say where I stand on the referendum. I do intend to vote, and I will vote Leave.

I do not vote in elections, because I am anti-political; I regard all politicians, of all parties, as criminals, and I refuse to vote for any of them. But in this case, where the issue goes beyond politics in the direction of strategy for human civilization, I feel that I can vote without compromising my principles.

From my point of view, there are two strands to freedom. One requires bigger units, the other requires smaller. Economic freedom requires a world wide free market. Political freedom, on the other hand, requires a reduction in size of the political unit. From the empire, back down to the nation, down to the municipality, down to the family – and, ultimately, down to the individual.

Up to about 1991, I used to be a Europhile. The EEC was, for me at least, a good thing. It enabled me to live and work in Holland for three formative years at the end of the 1970s. But the EU is something different. It’s political, not economic.

So, to Sean’s essay. I confess I was very surprised when King Dave saw fit to allow a referendum on the issue. Corner, meet back? And it was news to me that “we” had been campaigning for a referendum. I certainly hadn’t.

As to Johnson and co, my reading is that their apparent support for Brexit is merely an insurance play. They perhaps thought, if “the people” really do want to vote in droves for Brexit, let’s get ahead of the game. Let’s take over the opposition, and then if the government falls, we’ll be the government! If not, we can always do a deal to get back.

And yet… Sean has written and published more than a million words. So, one must expect that he will occasionally hit the heights. And he does just that in the paragraph beginning “We need to form closer bonds with each other…”

I agree with every sentiment in that paragraph. And yet, it brings me sadness. For Sean and many others don’t seem to understand that what “we” human beings all have in common isn’t a particular culture, a region of birth or a colour of skin. What we have in common is humanity; honesty, peacefulness, economic productivity and so on. None of these things are shared by Blair, Brown, Cameron, Johnson or their ilk.

Forget the referendum. In current circumstances, whatever happens, the political class will win. No point crying over spilt semen. Rather, I think, plant better and hardier seeds.

With apology to George Orwell: “Economics good. Politics bad.”

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14 comments

  • “What we have in common is humanity; honesty, peacefulness, economic productivity and so on”.

    I sincerely believe that the degree to which different cultures possess the common attributes you list varies, and there is also a great deal we do not have in common.

    I realise my position my be insufficiently libertarian for many, I have come to conclusion that libertarianism is not enough. Something more robust is needed if we are to survive the threats to our way of life.

    http://www.toqonline.com/blog/salus-populi-lex-suprema/

  • Neil – A most flattering tribute. But I’m not at all original in what I suggest. Also, when I speak of “shared outlooks,” I go beyond the limitations you infer. a tight community can be based on religion, on race, on sexuality, on a commitment to honesty, and on any shared characteristic or combination thereof.

    What matters is that, instead of forming more organisations and committees, all open to capture, we should be making individual choices and quiet agreements with each other. Instead of calling on the politicians to do or not do, we should be forming communities that let us push them out of our lives.

    And then we should hit back hard….

    • Do you just mean a ‘thought community’ that would co-operate informally, or do you additionally refer to the potential of a geographic location which would become a stronghold for an alternative libertarian politics?

      A similar idea to the latter has been around on the far-Right for many years, beginning in the United States. If you’re so inclined, you may wish to read the relevant book by H. Michael Barrett (it’s freely available online as a PDF).

      I have to say, little or no significant progress has been made with communitarian strategies, for a number of reasons that might be instructive for the Libertarian Alliance. I would say the factors are:

      1. Poor understanding of the concept. Very few white nationalists seem to have bothered reading Barrett’s book in order to fully understand his ideas as a strategy. There is a misplaced notion that forming intentional communities is just a conscious form of white flight, or a way of stockading or running away.

      2. Insufficient participation. You need large numbers of people.

      3. The need for secrecy. This inhibits involvement because organisers have to be wary about to whom the relevant locations are disclosed.

      I doubt 1 and 3 would be an issue for you. I can’t comment on 2, as I don’t know anything about levels of involvement in libertarianism in the UK.

      • Neil,

        As usual an excellent essay, and as usual, I disagree with almost everything you say.

        I’ll just pick out two points:

        1. [quote]”Economic freedom requires a world wide free market.”[unquote]

        In my opinion, the market is the source of what restricts freedom and a cause of most of the social problems discussed on this blog. It should be replaced with a non-market system.

        2. [quote]”…Sean and many others don’t seem to understand that what “we” human beings all have in common isn’t a particular culture, a region of birth or a colour of skin. What we have in common is humanity; honesty, peacefulness, economic productivity and so on. None of these things are shared by Blair, Brown, Cameron, Johnson or their ilk.”[unquote]

        Our common humanity is one thing we share, but I don’t accept it follows that human sub-divisions are irrelevant to this matter. In my view, the challenge is to reconcile three competing visions or ideas, which relate to fundamental driving forces:

        – global socialism, i.e. the need for a non-market system that address human needs and will remove the problems caused by capitalism;

        – ethno-nationalism, i.e. the human instinct to be tribal and construct sub-divisions in all areas of life, not just racial and ethnic, but also intellectual and spiritual. These divisions are mapped on to national allegiances, in which similar people form communities together and exclude those who aren’t similar;

        – freedom/autonomy, i.e. the drive or imperative in each human being to be free, which in my view is insatiable and explains much of history.

        3. [quote]”Forget the referendum. In current circumstances, whatever happens, the political class will win. No point crying over spilt semen. Rather, I think, plant better and hardier seeds.”[unquote]

        I understand (or I think I do) where you are going with this, but I think this is needlessly defeatist. History shows that radical political change can happen, but it needs to be the outcome of radical material change.

      • There may be no need for secrecy as such, though confidentiality would be an issue. I will read the Barrett book when I can find it. Thanks for the recommendation.

        As for low participation, what I suggest doesn’t need organisations or committees, just a settled preference for those of like mind. This can be wholly informal, but can have an effect over time.

        But let me find and read that book. I may learn something.

        • Read half of it. Interesting, but not what I have in mind. Barrett is thinking about a geographic community with captured institutions which will eventually persuade outsiders to go away. The problem with that is it requires unusual commitment, and it attracts parasites, and is easily disrupted.

          • Yes, I wasn’t sure exactly what you had in mind. In fairness, a PLE-type strategy can potentially involve ‘invisible’ and informal communities, where activists form social and business networks and don’t have membership lists, groups and organisations and other conceits that might be attackable. I think the main motive force behind a successful PLE would be what Barrett calls an Uncontrollable White Nationalist Culture, which is where a group of activists build up a community identity to such a point that it is plural (but white-conscious), organic and repels outsiders.

            The problem, as I see it, with a palaeo-libertarian equivalent is that you would not be able to fully practice your ideas, as you do not live in a legally libertarian environment. Indeed, it would seem the broad popular understanding of law in England has completely shifted away from traditional English common law, never mind libertarianism. The only alternative would be to move to a country where it is possible to live as a libertarian, but I am assuming that’s not on the agenda.

  • I’ll try to respond to Sean and Tom together in one go.

    I’m aware that the ideas Sean put forward aren’t original with him. And I have had somewhat similar thoughts myself; so imagine my pleasure at finding Sean thinking along some of the same lines.

    The way I look at it, we liberty loving human beings (in England, or elsewhere) need to build a civil society to replace the one the statists have all but destroyed. I am coming to think of this along the lines of a “new social contract.” And personally, I think it needs to cast its net wider than merely white English people – though philosophically it will, of course, be rooted in English and Scottish Enlightenment traditions.

    Part of the objective, I think, must be to provide infrastructure to enable civilization to continue and flourish, when the current statist system finally comes to its long-overdue end. Sean has highlighted examples of such infrastructure; a decent education system (something I think we liberty lovers as a group are well placed to provide), and standards and institutions to defend us against those hostile to us, are cases in point.

    While this might look like a withdrawal, it certainly isn’t quietism. Sean says, of the anti-EU campaigners: “Age alone will give many of them nowhere to go.” But, I think, a mental re-alignment is still possible for these people. Many of the architects of the new way, I expect, are likely to be people who (like me) are approaching retirement age, neither want to nor can afford to retire, but still have both plenty of energy and a contempt, not just for the EU, but for the whole of the current political system.

    To answer Tom’s question whether such a community should be geographic or not, my answer is no, it should be non-geographical. I haven’t read Barrett, but I’ve looked at attempts such as the Free State Project in the USA, which are seeking to take over already existing political units. From what I see, I don’t think this is a good strategy, since a geographical community is more vulnerable to physical attack by the state than one distributed among a wider population. Sean has provided some more arguments against the geographical option in his comments on Barrett’s book, above.

    As to the need for a free market, I have to disagree with Tom. A free market is simply the absence of political interference in the economy; and for me, that’s an unmitigated good thing. A socialist system, as Tom seems to want, will suppress the individual. For me, the only communities worth the name are those which individuals voluntarily choose to join and to adhere to because they get a nett benefit from them. Society must always be for the individuals who form it, not the individuals for society.

  • [quote]”To answer Tom’s question whether such a community should be geographic or not, my answer is no, it should be non-geographical. I haven’t read Barrett, but I’ve looked at attempts such as the Free State Project in the USA, which are seeking to take over already existing political units. From what I see, I don’t think this is a good strategy, since a geographical community is more vulnerable to physical attack by the state than one distributed among a wider population. Sean has provided some more arguments against the geographical option in his comments on Barrett’s book, above.”[unquote]

    Yes, but there are three points in response to this:

    (i). First, a PLE-type strategy has been used successfully by lots of different groups, including Moslems in Europe, especially Britain, France and Belgium; homosexuals (San Francisco, Brighton, parts of London); Irish Nationalists; and also in one prominent example, Afrikaner separatists in Orania. These groups have all built a ‘safe space’ in which they can practice their own preferred culture and also a power base.

    (ii). Second, PLE can be practised ‘invisibly’ and informally, with activists only showing their hand once an Uncontrollable White Nationalist Culture has gained traction and it is obvious. That essentially is a variation on what Moslems have done. Although their identity is visible, they are led by ‘moderates’ who affect to assimilate and never come out and say, in so many words, that their aim is to capture large geographical areas.

    (iii). Third, a population that is concentrated in a geographical area could be attacked, but not physically as we do still live in a law-governed country and the state would not risk openly moving against such a group provided they were non-violent and law-abiding. The state would be restricted to legal, economic and psychological attacks, and the efficacy of these methods would depend on the acuity of the strategy deployed by the separatists. In that regard, I refer you back to the examples given in (ii) above. Moslems in particular are busy building Moslem-conscious communities in this country, right under everybody’s noses.

    (iv). Fourth, a population dispersed over wide areas would be much less effective and I don’t see how that coheres with the strategy you propose anyway. I am not suggesting that you should all reside in one place, but there would need to be geographic concentration so that you can work together and have some influence on things.

  • [quote]”As to the need for a free market, I have to disagree with Tom. A free market is simply the absence of political interference in the economy; and for me, that’s an unmitigated good thing. A socialist system, as Tom seems to want, will suppress the individual. For me, the only communities worth the name are those which individuals voluntarily choose to join and to adhere to because they get a nett benefit from them. Society must always be for the individuals who form it, not the individuals for society.”[unquote]

    This is where we fundamentally disagree because as far as I can tell, even a true free market would require state regulation, otherwise there can be no property rights. Indeed, you might say that the phrase ‘free market’ is rather an oxymoron. It certainly has Orwellian connotations for me. ‘Freedom is the Market’ or ‘Markets are Free’ sounds to me a lot like ‘Freedom is Slavery’. Of course, in a sense the Ingsoc believers were right. Freedom really is slavery – I don’t believe there is such a thing as true freedom – but let’s not go into that now.

    We could argue over what you define as the ‘state’. This I think is the real point of contention, if a little semantic. Whenever I have read material by advocates of pure anarchist or non-state market economy, the need for official recognition of property rights for a market to function is recognised, and so these advocates always make provision for some kind of residual legal authority – this could be private arbitration services or whatever. They just don’t call it a state. They call it something else, but its function, in whatever form it takes, is always going to resemble that of a state, and even if its initial form is far removed from what we today would recognise as a state, I think our observations of human nature should tell us that these bodies – private corporations or charities or voluntary associations, or whatever they are – will develop or evolve state-like structures.

    Indeed, if I recall correctly Neil, in one of your explanatory posts, you conceded that a state would be required. Your vision, if I understand correctly, is minarchist rather than strictly anarchist, and as far as I can see, just a variation on Gabbian palaeo-libertarianism (nothing wrong with that, of course), but I think this approach to things is fairly common among thinkers of your type. My point is that as soon as you concede the need for a ‘state’, or as I will call it in this context, a Residual Legal Authority (‘RLA’), then you concede that there will be political interference. I use the ‘RLA’ moniker purposefully. It is an ‘authority’ because in a society of the type you mention, there would need to be a final arbiter of property rights that also, in most circumstances, would offer an absolute guarantee of such rights.

    That being the case, your vision is just another state , albeit not necessarily statist (at least not initially).

    When I say abolish the market, I am arguing that the market is the root of most of the problems we discuss on here. What I am proposing is a global free access system without any money or functioning markets at all. A society without markets and with free access to goods and services would have its own problems, but I would contend that most of the problems discussed on this blog – including immigration – would cease to apply in such a society. This non-market society would implicitly have no formal borders, however just so that I am not misunderstood, when I refer to a borderless world, I do not mean this in the same sense that a liberal or leftist would mean it. I would not expect large numbers of individuals would wish to migrate to other parts of the world. Rather, I would expect in such a society that different communities would be autonomous and self-sustaining, and for that reason, most people – even in the Third World – would see little reason to migrate as their resource needs would be largely met, and they would not wish to anyway as they would be wedded ecologically to their own ethnic identity and the physical environment that they have shaped and that has shaped them. Thus, a sub-Saharan African might visit Europe, and maybe study here, but he probably would find the idea of settling here permanently as very strange. Of course, there will be outliers – I would probably be an outlier myself, as I would want to move around – but most people will want to stay with the people they belong to.

    • I think where we disagree is on what “the state” is. For me, a state has sovereignty – that is, “supreme power over a body politic.” That means that its functionaries have moral privileges, such as “rights” to levy taxes, to make wars and to make laws to bind others. I don’t accept that anyone or any group should be allowed such moral privileges over others.

      Yes, I do think there needs to be some kind of what you call an ‘RLA.’ But it shouldn’t be a sovereign state. It can make legal decisions, including those which defend property rights, but they can only be enforced by the members of the society. It shouldn’t be able to make wars, or to arbitrarily tax (though the members of the society would, of course, be entitled to collectively defend themselves against outsiders; and it would, indeed, charge for its services, and if you don’t pay you won’t be able to use its courts). As to making laws, if the initial law code is well enough drafted then case law should be sufficient; there should be very little need for new “laws,” and an ‘RLA’ should only be able to do such things in case of demonstrated emergency.

      Whether the RLA itself needs to be territorial is a very interesting question, one I haven’t yet thought through. But my thinking at the moment is, insurance companies (for example) don’t need to be territorial, so why should a non-state RLA need to be territorial?

      • I’ve been meaning to come back to this thread. Sorry, I’ve been very busy lately.

        [quote]”I think where we disagree is on what “the state” is. For me, a state has sovereignty – that is, “supreme power over a body politic.” That means that its functionaries have moral privileges, such as “rights” to levy taxes, to make wars and to make laws to bind others. I don’t accept that anyone or any group should be allowed such moral privileges over others.”[unquote]

        The problem with the concept of ‘moral equality’, as I see it, is that it does not reflect the way that people are. Sovereignty is not an abstract concept that has arisen in a vacuum. Rather, it reflects the political affairs that people have allowed to arise. We must ask how the state obtains its sovereignty, what is its source, and so on? I would contend that the source is the subject people who are farmed for their taxes. I would suggest that even the most absolutist king or dictator could not continue unless he has the consent, acquiescence or submission of the people he rules. Thus, even in such an extreme case, kingly or dictatorial sovereignty is only an artifice for the wishes of the majority of the subject populace. It could be that the subject population are very unhappy with the conditions of absolute rule, but until such time as they revolt effectively or otherwise reform the system they live under, the king or dictator has his sovereignty.

        Your philosophy of ‘moral equality’ could not be implemented other than among people who are equally capable of living in a system of self-government, which would either be communism (of the anarchoid, pure Marxist kind) or some kind of non-capitalist market libertarianism, if this is possible. Both these systems assume or rely on a belief in complete human equality.

        If however it turns out that human equality is not possible, that people have vastly different levels of comprehension and initiative and so on, then I think moral equality would simply evolve into another system of institutional sovereignty (i.e. a state) because some people would have to start making decisions about other people and their property rights and so on.

        I am on the same page as you when it comes to the undesirability of the state, but I think the reality of human inequality necessitates cultural, racial and linguistic borders.

        [quote]”Yes, I do think there needs to be some kind of what you call an ‘RLA.’ But it shouldn’t be a sovereign state. It can make legal decisions, including those which defend property rights, but they can only be enforced by the members of the society. It shouldn’t be able to make wars, or to arbitrarily tax (though the members of the society would, of course, be entitled to collectively defend themselves against outsiders; and it would, indeed, charge for its services, and if you don’t pay you won’t be able to use its courts). As to making laws, if the initial law code is well enough drafted then case law should be sufficient; there should be very little need for new “laws,” and an ‘RLA’ should only be able to do such things in case of demonstrated emergency.”[unquote]

        For the purposes of this discussion, I can accept your definition of a state as a sovereign version of an RLA and that in your envisaged society the RLA would be non-sovereign because it would rely on voluntarism and co-operation. However, even in accepting this premise, my point remains that what you describe here could easily evolve into what we recognise as a state, albeit in a more modest and inoffensive form.

        Given that the society you want is based on property rights, the non-sovereign RLA could easily become a sovereign RLA due to the need to enforce property rights. If I understand you correctly, you seem to be saying that this wouldn’t happen because everything would be enforceable voluntarily, but you can surely appreciate the weakness in this point. It’s not difficult to see how a non-sovereign RLA would gradually develop its own competences independently of the voluntary society around it.

        My contention is that the only solution to this is to abolish the market and do away with property rights. That brings me on to the last point, which is the relevancy of socialism.

        [quote]”And on the matter of markets, I am wondering what you mean by “free access” to goods and services. Do you mean no-one should have any property rights at all? Isn’t that merely a recipe for “might is right?”

        “And in such a non-money and non-market society, if a group of people agreed on a currency and decided to form a market between themselves, do you think someone should have the right to stop them? If so, who?”[unquote]

        Yes, I am arguing that no-one should have any property rights at all (except of course rudimentary rights to possession of one’s own personal effects and so on). And yes, it is a recipe for ‘Might Is Right’, and that’s exactly my point. In a socialist society (i.e. a society without property), the interests of the majority (‘the Might’) are best served, while at the same time, the ultra-individualists like myself and maybe yourself, are free to go and do what we like. You won’t be able to start a company or buy property or trade on the stock market, as there will be no property rights, but then, in a free access society, those things will have been relegated to irrelevancy. You won’t want to do those things anyway.

        In such a non-money and non-market society, if a group wanted to break away and become market-based or capitalist, they could and nobody would be able to stop them, but you’d have to ask: Why would they? It would be as ridiculous as somebody today declaring that they want to re-start medieval feudalism on a farm in Norfolk because they’re sick of capitalism and want to restore the old ways. Why would anybody do that?

    • And on the matter of markets, I am wondering what you mean by “free access” to goods and services. Do you mean no-one should have any property rights at all? Isn’t that merely a recipe for “might is right?”

      And in such a non-money and non-market society, if a group of people agreed on a currency and decided to form a market between themselves, do you think someone should have the right to stop them? If so, who?

      • Note: I’ve answered these points in the last two paragraphs of my reply above.

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