A Homecoming: Another conference of the PFS
21st September 2017
I arrived home a few days ago from the 12th annual conference of the Property and Freedom Society (PFS) in Bodrum, Turkey. Just like last year, and the year before that, I am missing everyone and everything already. For, as so many attendees had told me and as I myself now understand, attending a PFS conference is like a homecoming. This was my third conference and the most enjoyable yet for me. At the risk of exaggeration, I feel rather homesick being back in England!
This year I flew from Manchester, which was more convenient in some ways, even if I had to put up with loud northern accents and a much less efficient Airport. The flight arrived about half an hour before expected, so this was a plus. I picked up my case from the carousel and soon found a PFS driver waiting for me with another attendee. At the Hotel, we were greeted by Jay, the manager. Being English, I didn’t expect him to hug me, but he did. He told me Sean Gabb had just arrived. Sean had had a very long journey from Deal, the poor bugger. Both of us have put on weight. Oh well!
Because I didn’t take a journal with me, my memory of the details of the conference are a little sketchy. The vast quantities of wine consumed may also have something to do with this. For this reason, I can’t provide a proper narrative of my stay at the Karia Princess this year. But I will pick out a few highlights.
Dinner on the penultimate night was with Professor Norman Stone, the former Professor of Modern History at Oxford who for some years was Margaret Thatcher’s speechwriter and adviser. We had bonded over a mutual disinterest in the intricacies of libertarian contract theory. During one of the panel sessions, we were perhaps a bit ignorant, chatting away about Ken Clarke and Maurice Cowling and goodness knows what else. Norman made it clear he was more interested in Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Anthony Daniels’ contributions from the panel than the others, and when Stephan Kinsella – charming and brilliant though he is – began holding forth about legal theory, he stood up and said, “I think I’m going to go and read Varoufakis!” Here I made him promise to have dinner with me that evening.
Such men – Great Men – are often intimidating. Norman goes out of his way to avoid intimidating shy young undergraduates such as myself. He is a perfect gentleman, even if his idea of an icebreaker was to try to teach me rude words in Turkish. I had mentioned that Selwyn College, Cambridge now has two Deans, a Dean of Chapel and a Dean of Discipline. At this, Norman burst into a fit of helpless laughter and said, “Oh, no! Now let me teach you the Turkish for ‘I have an uncontrollable erection!'” I can, I flatter myself, just about keep up with Norman where drink is concerned. But he smokes me under the table! (And I wasn’t only one helping myself to his cigarettes; half-way through dinner, Hans-Hermann Hoppe also asked “Norman, can I bum a fag?”) When then briefly discussing the academics at Cambridge he remembers from his time as an undergraduate and Fellow, I did say in passing “…he’s ancient, but they still have him doing Supervisions, during which he often falls asleep-“
“Ancient?” He interrupted. “He’s my age! Oh, dear, you’ve gaffed!” He rasped before giggling.
When Andrew Shuen came to join us, Norman and I had been arguing back and forth about various things. He turned to Andrew and said, “England’s a miracle, isn’t it?” He then asked how you explain this. He answered his own question, “Simple: England has no peasants!” Thus began a series of conversations over dinner almost as natural and topographical as one of his lectures.
The night before this, dinner with Janusz Korwin-Mikke was no less amusing. We competed – he won – to see who could tell the naughtiest jokes. Like Norman, Janusz is almost exactly the same in person as when delivering a speech. For obvious reasons, I won’t go into any detail about our conversation. But I will simply remark here that Janusz is a fantastically energetic, even hyperactive, man. I am reminded of the line from Are You Being Served? where the elderly and frail Head of Gent’s Outfitting, Mr Grainger, is remarking how impressive the octogenarian store owner is to be so fit and healthy at his age. He says, “I do hope I shall be as active as Mr Grace when I’m 80.” The ever-impertinent Mr Lucas fires back, “That’s hardly likely; you’re not as active as he is now!” When I saw Janusz darting around the Karia Princess, that is how I felt. During the conference proceedings, I caught a peak at his laptop screen; there must have been at least thirty tabs open at any one time. When talking to him, you are left in no doubt that the man could discuss thirty topics at the same time, if only he had thirty heads.
Oh, but I don’t want to give the impression I merely hung about with the old fogeys. The youngsters at PFS are good fun, too: Max Mencel; Andreas Kohl Martinez; Christian Robitaille; Les James; Martin Eriksson; and still others I might have mentioned. There seems to be a growing contingent at these conferences from Liechtenstein, which can only be a Good Thing. Oh, and Stephan Kinsella is still a young man, just about. I think I bored him stiff with my talk of Anglo-Catholicism and young fogeys…
The boat trip on the last day is always a good opportunity for more relaxed conversation and for a swim. This year I remembered my swimming trunks and so was able to get a fair bit of swimming done – and to get a lot of sunburn. There was something faintly comical about approaching Hans-Hermann Hoppe via water and hearing him exclaim, “Ah, zo I zee Keir Martland can svim!”
And of course, PFS is always an opportunity for the British contingent, formerly the Libertarian Alliance and now the Ludwig von Mises Centre, to do their best impression of ‘Brits abroad.’ This year was my turn to get a big wet kiss off Andy Duncan, now Vice-President of Mises UK. Half-jokingly, I asked Andy, “Are you sure you’re not gay?” Sean interrupted, “Oh, every man’s gay when drunk!”
Sean and I always spend an inordinate amount of time with each other at these conferences; I seem to recall that I ate all but two meals apart from him. I think this is because we are – according to so many of the foreigners in attendance – more or less carbon copies of each other. We are both probably autistic. We both have wicked opinions. We both have a taste for similarly wicked comedy. That reminds me to look into Ideal, a dark comedy TV series set in the North of England, which Sean describes as “the best the North has to offer.” One of the points I made repeatedly to anyone who would listen to me this year was that we need more libertarian and conservative comics. This is a variant of the ‘politics is downstream from culture’ argument. It does sound rather self-contradictory to argue against arguing, but I maintain that if someone is brought up on bad comedy, they will probably have bad politics. One reason the Left dominate politics is because they dominate culture, and you can’t argue against culture. More specifically, you can’t argue against a TV sitcom, or if you do you will be regarded as a loon. But if you can’t argue against them, I suggest reading between the lines. The Big Bang Theory is the ultimate in left-wing propaganda; we need a right-wing equivalent. But I digress.
The speeches, as always, were excellent. A few stood out for me, but it would be unkind to single them out. But the Hoppe speech was seriously good. I was one of the first to rise to my feet in a standing ovation. I said to Max Mencel and Andreas Martinez, “It got me right there” (pointing to my chest) and I wasn’t exaggerating. It is an electrifying speech, quite unlike anything I have seen before. It includes a denunciation of various fake libertarians, a critique of the Alt-Right, and a ten point ‘Anti-Communist Manifesto.’ All the panel sessions were good, too, but the penultimate one stood out for me. Oh, alright, I’ll single out Titus Gebel’s speech and his contribution to the panel session for the second day of speeches. He sparked a lively and productive discussion of the practicalities of free private cities, with equally important contributions from the floor by Johann Gevers.
My own speech – ‘The Middle Ages as Ordered Anarchy’ (!) – went down very well. Again, just like last year, I wasn’t satisfied with my delivery, and more than one person suggested I should have Sean Gabb give me lessons in oratory. But, while I appreciate Sean’s approach to public speaking, it is not what I am aspiring to. I prefer the ‘playful curmudgeon’ approach of Anthony Daniels or what I have dubbed the ‘one-man Supervision’ approach of Norman Stone. What disappointed me was not so much the delivery as the structure. I did joke on the arrivals day to Max Mencel and others that what I was hoping for was the lecture-equivalent of a ‘magic cake.’ To anyone familiar with baking, this is where you shove all the ingredients in a bowl and something resembling a cake comes out. I had at least twenty thousand words in my head and I was hoping something rather more lecture-ish would have come out the oven. Anyway, spontaneity takes practice and I’m sure I’ll find a speaking style one day, but what matters is that Hans liked my speech. Dinner on the final night was with Hans and Guelcin. Guelcin was giving her husband a good telling off for not being prepared to practice what he preaches. “You talk a good game, but in practice you are a socialist. You are too nice!” I agree with Guelcin. Both Hans and Guelcin are much too nice, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
God save the PFS! Long live the PFS!
Amen, Amen, Alleluia, Alleluia, Amen.