Notes from the Eleventh Conference of the Property and Freedom Society
in Turkey, September 2016
By Sean Gabb
Bodrum, 30th August 2016
“We’re not going there!” said Mrs Gabb last month, when the BBC showed footage of the military coup in Turkey.
“Oh, certainly not,” I said, playing for time.
I’ve no doubt the coup was a nuisance for many other people beside the Gabb family. But it was a nuisance for me. A few days before, we’d agreed our plans for the summer. A drive to Slovakia at the end of July. Three weeks with the in-laws outside Pezinok. Then, instead of committing ourselves to the same boring old motorways back to Dunkirk, a new drive – Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria; crossing into Turkey, a few days looking round Istanbul; then across the Bosporus into Asia Minor, and the long motorway to Bodrum. From there, we’d strike out into the hinterland – Hierapolis, Aphrodisias, possibly Laodicea. It would, we agreed, be a wonderful adventure for us, and would give our daughter an endless fund of stories to impress her friends at school. One look at those artillery shells going off on the telly, and the whole thing was right off the menu.
We eventually agreed that I could go alone to the eleventh conference of the Property and Freedom Society – but I’d stay in the Hotel and call back to mind all the experience of survival in dodgy foreign parts acquired in a misspent but lucky youth.
Well, here I am in Bodrum, safe in my hotel room and fresh from a long Skyping session with my women. The journey was uneventful. Deal to Stansted; largely empty airport; a flight stuck next to two fat Irish women who spent half the flight getting plastered at £15 a round and half making me stand up so they could go to the toilet. I suspected nothing worse. After all, what suicide bomber ever threw himself away on blowing up and aeroplane with “EasyJet” written on its side? Milas airport was also largely empty when we landed. Immigration control took all of five minutes. Baggage reclamation ditto. The driver from the Hotel Karia Princess was waiting for me. Another two minutes for the man to have a fag, and we were on the road from Milas to Bodrum.
The first time I came here, back in 2006, the road from the airport was decidedly quiet. To the left was an endless vista of rockiness, to the right an unbroken view over the Aegean Sea. The concrete factories have been working since then at full pelt, and, coming here by night, both sides of the road were lit up like Christmas trees from the new hotels and shops. Bodrum itself seems to have doubled in size, and there were traffic jams even late in the evening. But the Hotel is exactly the same as ever. The Manager was waiting for me on the steps. Greetings, polite conversation over the check-in, then to my room.
Bearing in mind how long I’ve been here, and how I got here, I can’t speak about Turkey with any authority. Thirty miles inland, I know there is a radically different Turkey from the coastal towns, which look to Europe in both culture and demography. There is political trouble in the big cities, and military trouble in the east and south. Tourism is probably down by half, and all those hotels and associated businesses may be in a terrible squeeze. I expect I shall see evidence of strain in the next few days. But no unshaven men running about with guns a la Syria and Ukraine. No signs of artillery duels or airstrikes. Just a busy tourist port on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea. Sitting where I am, I feel that I could and should have brought my women with me.
My life to date has been divided between idleness and guilt. Only this second has got me as far as I’ve come. And I was filled with guilt in the Skype conversation with my women. They had been having second thoughts ever since I booked my flight. Perhaps they should come after all. Since I didn’t really know what I’d find, I was noncommittal until it was too late to change the booking. Now, I felt guilty that I’d left them behind in boring Deal. They could have had a lovely week or so sitting by the pool and going about the town. I’d not have risked hiring a car again, as I did the last time we were all here together. It would have been a jolly holiday all the same.
So here I am, for another PFS Conference. My speech this year will be a denunciation of Margaret Thatcher. My colleague, Keir Martland, will be here on Thursday. His speech – his first to the PFS – will be about the Glorious Revolution, which he – most perversely, if I may be so unkind as to comment in advance – fails to see as the greatest deliverance in English history until such time as one of us becomes Lord Protector. I haven’t looked at the rest of the schedule, though I have no doubt it will be up to the usual standard.
I’ve brought my various pills with me, just in case the awful infection that nearly carried me off in June reoccurs: I doubt it will. I’ve brought my own coffee this time. It may be advancing years, but I find that Sainsbury does a nicer half pound bag than the Turkish supermarkets. I’ve even brought a big plastic mug, as hotel cups are never big enough for coffee as it should be drunk. I have my nice webcam, which I’ve got working with the Windows Anniversary Edition. I have the Annales of Tacitus in Latin to keep me entertained when not socialising or speaking, and the Essays of Macaulay, which I haven’t reread this century. I used to like him a lot, and hope to like him again.
All that should keep me going.
31st August 2016
Woke up surprisingly early. Then again, this isn’t the sort of climate to encourage late rising. Breakfast. Greetings to the few others so far arrived. Then, in breach of all assurances given to myself and my women, I went out of the hotel for a walk through Bodrum.
When I was first here in 2006, the town was bustling, though never crowded. Over the years, crowds did emerge, and they and the traffic grew steadily heavier. This morning, much traffic, but hardly any tourists. The restaurants were mostly closed, the few coffee bars all deserted. I expected to be mugged by shopkeepers, desperate to unload some of their Chinese souvenirs. The only one I encountered not too busy chain smoking in quiet misery told me that an already rotten season had turned catastrophic after the coup last month. His belief was that tourism to the western coast was eighty per cent down, and that it might not recover for several years. He’d heard the same conspiracy theories as I’d picked up on the Internet – that the coup was political theatre to let the Government sack all its enemies, or that it had been foiled on a tip off from Moscow – but was unable to give any local insight. I gave him my sympathies and walked back to the hotel through absolutely still backstreets. Still no suicide bombers hurling themselves at me from the recessed doorways. Still no sound of heavy bombing. The probable truth is that Turkey is no more dangerous than much of Europe, and that I should have brought my women with me. We’d not this time have hired a car to drive deep inland to ruined and largely unvisited ancient cities. We’d not have driven down the coast to resorts with nice volcanic beaches – safety, after all, is a relative thing, and there might be a spot of banditry on the roads. But they’d have enjoyed the pool no end.
Back at the hotel, swam and bumped into various friends. They agreed we should have come for a bit longer, and we joined in sneering at the Americans who’d cancelled coming out of fear of what they’d seen on the telly.
Dinner with Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Norman Stone. Conversation enjoyable, but best omitted from this public version of my diary entries. Hans told me the names of who’d cancelled, but confirmed that Walter Block would be coming. That, I said, was more than adequate compensation….
In the formal sense, the Property and Freedom Society held its first Bodrum conference in 2006. I still regard that one as the best conference I’ve ever attended. But if I had a glorious time, making new friends, and scurrying about ruins and showing off my ability to read Greek inscriptions, it had none of the tight structure of the later conferences. The 2007 Conference was nearer to the classical model, but there was still no realisation that something so wonderful called out for a full video record. In 2006, I’d recorded my own speech, and I might have recorded the lecture given by Hans – though I don’t think I ever published either. I certainly never published the footage I shot by the pool, when Paul Gottfried stripped off and joined in the belly dancing. In 2007, I was also selective in what I recorded. This being said, I did record a fascinating interview with Paul that has turned out to show where he’d reached with his idea of an alternative right. It was only in 2008 that I began recording and publishing all the speeches, and this conference set the model for all others.
This being said, I was asked by Keir Martland, here for the second time, which I thought was the best conference. My answer is that it was impossible to answer his question. They have all been at the top of their class. There is no other annual conference where we spend a weekend at a hotel in the Eastern Mediterranean, and where we spend as much time sat round the pool talking and talking and talking with friends old and new as listening to each other in the conference room. I also believe there are no other conferences – certainly not outside North America – where libertarians and conservatives have been able to spend a decade talking over their differences and helping to bring into being a new kind of opposition movement to the leftist hegemony, broadly united in our analysis and united in at least our short term goals.
So was this one the best? Rather than give a yes or no answer, I will say that 2016 was a conference in which the falling off in attendance gave those of us who did attend a greater than usual sense of taking part in something important. I will add that the speeches were much more uniform in their high quality. I was sensible that my 2015 speech was lacklustre and showed a lack of preparation. My reason that that I spent much of that year in one of my depressions, and, if I almost pulled myself together for that week in Bodrum, I was far from at my best. This year, I made careful preparation for my attack on Margaret Thatcher and delivered it rather well. Hans had asked me to go over her with a blowtorch, but I saw that Norman Stone would be listening, and he was one of her speechwriters. An attack on her would in some degree be an attack on him, and gratuitous rudeness is always to be avoided. I managed a careful balancing act.
The only criticism I will make of what I said is that it’s one thing to know what happened in the 1980s, but another to unpack its awfulness before an audience largely unaware of the truth. I am ashamed to say that my voice began to shake at the horror of it all. Since I try to keep my speeches witty and faintly aloof, I regard this as a fault. I’ve never been overcome before when speaking, and I don’t propose to be again.
I could describe and comment on the other speeches. However, they will be published in due course on YouTube, and I leave it to you what to think. I will only mention that that Keir made his first speech this year to the Conference, and did it with enviable poise and fluency and command of his material. I won’t go from here into a digression on the theme of “So young and so good.” Youth is a wasting asset, and there comes a time when a brilliant child must stop being described in the tone you’d apply to a walking dog or an Olympic champion with only one lung. Keir is now eighteen, which makes him an adult. If he will get better with age, it’s now appropriate to judge his speech on its merits and not him on his age. It was a good speech – a very good speech. He made about the best case that can be made that James II wasn’t an awful King of England, whose despotic intentions were only frustrated by the great men of the country and two of his closest relatives. He also fielded the difficult question I put to him in the panel session. For the rest, I will refer you to the text and video of the speech. I hope neither will be long delayed.
The Hoppe speech was particularly good, and undoubtedly significant, being a summary of his argumentation theory – which may be his most enduring academic contribution. Again, though, it will soon be out on video. If he’s read this far, I will remind Hans of his promise to let the Libertarian Alliance have first publication rights over the text.
Walter Block’s speech was a good knockabout demolition of welfare economics. He was one of the new friends I made there, though our conversation must have seemed comical to anyone watching it. We spent half our time together arguing about immigration, and half discussing our various wars on the curse of stoutness. “You know, Dr Atkins wouldn’t approve,” I said once with a scowl at his pudding, while hiding a burp over my second helping of smoked salmon and super-hot chillies.
Oh, but this will have to do as my record of the latest Property and Freedom Society conference. If you want to know more, why not book your places for 2017? I might not relish a full hotel. On the other hand, these events are not run for the sake of my somewhat eccentric preferences. This being said, I was told there might be a visit next year to some very interesting ruins covered in Greek inscriptions….