The Twelfth Conference of the Property and Freedom Society (2017), by Sean Gabb
The Twelfth Conference of the Property and Freedom Society
22nd September 2017
The twelfth conference of the Property and Freedom Society took place last weekend, in the usual place and with the usual enjoyments. The Hotel Karia Princess was about the same as ever, and I believe I was put up in the same room as last year. Bodrum itself was somewhat busier than last year, which must have been a mercy for its tradesmen and hoteliers – though it remains but a shadow of what it was when I first knew it. This year has seen two earthquakes, at least one terrorist attack, a fallen pound and a bitter argument between Berlin and Ankara – none of which was helpful to the tourist trade. This being said, it all made a peaceful stay for those possessed of a steady nerve.
Since I have written at length about the Hotel and the company I find there, I will focus this short record on what was new or otherwise different. My speech, on The Value of the Greek and Roman Classics, I have already published in both video and text versions, so will not summarise here. But it was the first speech of the conference, and was received very kindly.
Everyone is in the custom of telling me what a fine public speaker I am. My own view, strongly expressed, though never without objection from others, is that I am at best a competent speaker. I am, undeniably, a very good writer. Whether I am more than that I leave to the judgement of posterity. Where speaking is concerned, I do best when I have written a text or planned one in my head, and made sure its headings and some of its wording are in my memory. I am then able to be fluent and to the point, and to give an appearance of speaking from a momentary inspiration. Indeed, there is momentary inspiration, so far as I am able to measure myself against the clock, and look round the audience, and cut or expand as seems to be appropriate. But nothing I ever say is equal to what I write. When I write, I have total control over the words on the screen. I can change everything as I write and after I have written. When I speak, the words already spoken are set in concrete. If I repeat a word or phrase without good reason, or say something less clearly than I would like, or speak out of logical order, I can call nothing back for amendment. It is most frustrating. If I seem better than I am, that is the effect of living in an age where anything above the mediocre, or that is not read out, is thought excellent.
Next on the menu was Keir Martland. He was disappointed by his speech. The Ordered Anarchy of the Middle Ages was a difficult theme, and would always have been difficult to manage well in half an hour. But if his ordering of points could have been smoother, and if he was following what I believe he truly thought one of my better speeches, I thought it was a good performance that left no one in doubt of his case. He said what needed to be said, and supported it with full evidence. Everyone else agreed it was good, and the video of his speech has had three times as many hits as the video of my speech. He did less well than he wanted – but vastly better than I could have at his age, and better than almost anyone else at his age. He will do better next time, and the consciousness, however mistaken, of having failed once will help him make sure never to disappoint himself again.
I recorded both speeches on my mobile telephone, and published these at once on YouTube. They are there for anyone who may wish to see if my judgement is sound. The technical quality is impressive, bearing in mind the basic equipment used – a Samsung smartphone, held in a selfie cradle screwed into a tripod, and place about three yards from the speaker. There was a time when I would go out to Bodrum pulling a bag filled with video equipment. Nowadays, we all carry a television studio about in our pockets. Scientific and technological progress are more than compensation for the evils of our age. They may in time be a remedy for those evils.
This being said, and with apologies to those I am ignoring, I pass over the other speeches. They will all be published in due course. The undoubted highlight of the Conference was the closing speech given by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Bitter regrets here, and apologies. The title – Libertarianism and the “Alt-Right” – should have alerted me to the significance of what was to be said. It should have made me pull out my telephone again. Instead, I sat through an hour of frequently impassioned argument without taking so much as a note on paper. The speech will be published eventually. But this may take weeks, or even a month. So let me try to collect what was said from what I can remember. This is, most emphatically, not an official or a verbatim record. But the speech went roughly as follows:
There have been attacks, in all the usual places, on Professor Hoppe and the Property and Freedom Society. A movement that, in its origins and most of its current intellectual output, emerged from the writings of Jewish refugees from Central Europe and of American Jews has been smeared as a cover for national socialism.
No response will silence these attacks, but it is worth putting on record the differences between libertarianism, properly considered, and the Alternative Right.
True libertarianism should always be distinguished from its increasingly bizarre leftist reconstructions. It is a steady focus on the rights to life, liberty and property, and nothing more than that. It should also be distinguished from at least the more statist elements of the Alternative Right.
Some years ago, the Property and Freedom Society gave a forum to various leaders of the Alternative Right. This was out of interest in what they had to say, and out of sympathy for the informal persecution they were already suffering. There is an overlap between libertarianism and the Alternative Right, so far as both object to political correctness and to the censorship imposed to silence complaint.
Here, however, the overlap ends. The libertarian response to our leftist police state is to demand – short of its total abolition – a smaller and more focussed state. We are not interested in street marches and shows of public strength. We do not approve of violence, and we reject any solutions that are bad in themselves, and that require a larger and more intrusive state than we now have. Libertarians believe in freedom of speech and freedom of association without reservation. Many Alternative Rights – not all of them, it should be said – appear to believe in these freedoms for themselves, and only for others until they are in charge.
We want no more censorship, no more wars, no more indiscriminate welfare – especially for those whose presence among us is enabled by welfare and affirmative action. We want a radical unleashing of enterprise and creativity. We want the police turned from a pro-state militia into a service charged with making the streets safe. We have radically different ambitions from the Alternative Right, and we want at least a smaller state for these to be achieved. And we want no more than at least a smaller state.
Coming from one of the acknowledged leaders of the libertarian movement, this can be taken as a statement of orthodoxy. It was a most valuable statement. It will not silence the attacks on our movement. Our enemies are not interested in the truth. Their standard response to attacks on the leftist police state is to accuse dissidents of “extremism.” Even so, the statement is there – or will be once published – for anyone who is interested in the truth to see the truth.
What more? The value of a conference is always found as much in the private conversations as in the formal proceedings. I doubt if anyone went to bed before midnight, and many of us sat up around the pool until just hours before the dawn. Nothing of the conversations this year stands out for recording. But I can assure you that everything went by in a blaze of friendship and good humour.
So ends my record of the twelfth conference of the Property and Freedom Society – the best libertarian conferences in the world.