Sean Gabb: Notice of Abdication

Notice of Abdication
by Sean Gabb

(19th June 2017)

I have always known I would one day write a posting like this one. But, as with death, stepping down from the Libertarian Alliance was something I chose to contemplate from a distance. Here it now is. By the time you read these words, I shall no longer be Director of the Libertarian Alliance. My role as absolute master of the organisation will have been taken by Keir Martland.

Since I do not wish to write at length, my reasons for stepping down can be summarised under two headings:

First, I have not been as good a Director as the Libertarian Alliance may have needed. If I write well, and if I have courage, I am not a leader. I am reserved and even cold. I do not make friends easily. I do not like the company of strangers. These failings alone disqualify me from running a successful political organisation. Chris Tame was aware of them, but made me his successor because his cancer took him by surprise, and because no one else in his circle was what he considered a man of ability or of good character.

I have done my duty. With me in charge, the Libertarian Alliance has not become yet another corporate front. We have continued to defend freedom of speech and of association, and the general values of a free and open society. We have remained radical in areas where others chose to look the other way. Thanks to me, indeed, we have remained in being. There was, in 2011, an attempted takeover of the Libertarian Alliance. When I defeated this, the attempt became one of destruction. Using throughout the powers left me in his will, I faced down the threat Chris had warned me against on his deathbed. But if I have the qualities needed to preserve it, I have few of the qualities needed to advance an organisation.

Second, a new generation of thinkers and writers has emerged within our movement. These are young men of ability. They are ambitious and energetic. Some of them are my own former students and semi-students. In all cases, I have known them for a large portion of their lives; and they seem to lack the moral deficiencies of the men who surrounded Chris Tame in his last decade. I will speak particularly, though briefly, of Keir Martland. I met him when he was thirteen, and realised at once he was a most brilliant young man. When he was sixteen, I asked if he would like to be my successor. He said he would when the time was right. He is now pushing nineteen, and we both feel it is time for me to stand out of his way.

The only condition placed on my abdicating in his favour was that Keir should be as absolutely in charge as I had been. A state needs to be governed by constitutional rules. A small organisation must, if it is to survive, let alone flourish, be a despotism. He has agreed. He will maintain the archive of the Libertarian Alliance. He will appropriate its history. But he will change its name, and he will take it in new directions. What directions these may be are for him alone to decide.

As said, I do not plan to disappear. I will continue to write and occasionally to broadcast. I may be wheeled out at meetings and conferences. I will give such private advice as may be asked of me, or that I may think required. But I shall no longer be the organisation’s absolute master. I have abdicated.

It would be unnatural if I were to feel nothing as I typed these words. The Libertarian Alliance has been part of my life since I was Keir’s age. I may not believe I did it well, but I was its leader for eleven years, and I did keep it in being. I did so at considerable moral and financial cost. I am now stepping down. I feel strange. I feel sad. I feel diminished. I feel sure, even so, that what I am doing is right – right for the movement, right for the young man who will now direct it, right for me.

This was meant to be a short posting, and I have said enough. I offer Keir my best wishes for the future.

16 thoughts on “Sean Gabb: Notice of Abdication

  1. An interesting post, Sean. You are self-effacing for no reason. You have all the right qualities, but all the same it is a good idea to ensure the long-term survival of the LA in this way. I look forward to Keir’s leadership of the LA and seeing what direction he takes it in. Maybe he will now enlighten us! I’m glad Sean will still be around. Good luck the pair of you. I wonder how university gets in the way of LA activities, but it is a good long-term future for Keir.

  2. Old man, you do not do yourself nearly enough honour.

    Nobody else could have stood all those dreadful, for example, BBC-radio-upper-jipoopooland talk-ins where you got wheeled in as the extreme right wing fascist whipping-boy, and occasionally even got de-microphoned…. I could not have done those in a million years. I’d have “flipped”, and hit someone. Chris knew this, which is why I just stayed happily in the background doing harmless stuff of nothing much, just “helping Brian”, or whatever..

    You must, in truth, have a thicker skin that I judged.

    Don’t go away though.

  3. “I am not a leader. I am reserved and even cold. I do not make friends easily. I do not like the company of strangers. These failings alone….”
    Failings? Why failings? These are just characteristics, are they not?
    You will be greatly missed, Sean.

  4. Even for the occasional observer, your moderate & educated approach to nowadays decadence’ nefarious issues has been a plusvalue to the battles you have faced.
    Will look forward getting in touch furtherly.

  5. You’re too humble. I believe the organization has benefitted a great deal from your leadership. For one, living in the United States, I most likely never would have heard of this organization had someone not sent me a rather provocative speech entitled “The Case Against the American War of Independence”. The title alone is no way to endear yourself to an American patriot. But, to my surprise, I found the argument persuasive, and the presentation fair, albeit hard hitting. I’ve since followed your work with the Alliance as well as your fiction. If you can bring a US patriot aboard with a speech about why his country ought not to exist, well that certainly implies some level of political finesse.

  6. Spoken like a Trojan, Sean. As far as I’m concerned, you have done everything you could have done for the LA.

    You say “A small organisation must, if it is to survive, let alone flourish, be a despotism.” You’re right: I’ve noticed this too, how libertarian organizations tend to be autocratic. Chris Tame himself was an autocrat, as was Vince Miller at ISIL. Autocracy is a fine way to run an organization; as long, of course, as you get on well with the autocrat. I hope that Keir will prove to be a good king.

    And the really good news is… now you will have more time to write!

  7. Sean, thank you for carrying the flame Chris handed to you for so many years. I wholly agree that the LA as a private organisation should not be run democratically. As a founder member of the LA (and the designer of its logo!) I wish Keir all good wishes for the future.

    Judy Englander

  8. Well, happy retirement Sean – no LA pension fund deficit I guess… And best wishes to Keir too.

    I remember when I joined the LA way back in 1973 (I think) and being member number 8. Chris reassured me by saying that there were probably at least three or even four more libertarians in the UK but that they were somewhere way up in the north!

    I was actually able to vote for the Scottish Libertarian Party in the recent Edinburgh City Council elections and they achieved a mighty 0.05% of the vote. The Edinburgh student effect I supposed. There are around 60,000 of them here, some of whom are able to think for themselves. But even over in university-free, post-industrial, old Labour East Ayrshire the SLP fought every seat and also got 0.05%. That equates to around a quarter of a million people on a UK basis. Onwards and upwards.

    Pam and I have just booked 36 tickets for the Edinburgh Book Festival which is a great place to annoy the enemy class and make some converts.

    David Farrer (former LA Finance Director)

    • Dear Davd,

      Many thanks for that. I feel a little strange no longer to be at the centre of my own little constellation. But I shall get used to this. Indeed, I privately resigned in Keir’s favour six weeks ago, which explains the speed with which the changes were carried through. I hope and believe Mises UK will be a roaring success.


    • To correct the statistic from above, the Scottish Libertarian Party in the recent Edinburgh City Council elections in the wards where candidates were running the results were between 0.2% and 0.7% (the results in other places were similar, reaching up to 1%). Hopefully we can build on this.

      Which is still not earth-shattering but at least an order of magnitude better than quoted. 🙂

      In any case, I wish good luck to Sean Gabb and to the Libertarian Alliance in its new form – may it be at least as productive as the old one which will be fondly remembered. Please keep at it!

  9. As I wrote to Keir, Sean, you should not berate yourself for being a brilliant elder and a private person; libertarianism is about protecting—even treasuring—all things private.

    Thanks, Sean, for valuing this column’s contribution throughout the years. You’ve always been intellectually honest. There’s no higher praise than intellectual honesty, in this day and age.

    I recall fondly when, at a Liberty Fund colloquium (in the idyllic and breathtaking setting of the Ockenden Manor in Cuckfield), “History, Citizenship and Patriotism in Liberal Democracy”—and after we had all been imbibing—someone present asked for your opinion about the writing of that demure woman “over there.”

    Swaying on your feet only slightly, you said LOUDLY, “ilana is very, very, very good.” Three times. Loud enough for me to hear. I never forgot that.

    We shall meet again.


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