Sean Gabb Turns Sixty
by Keir Martland
Over the next few days, there shall follow a short series of articles extolling the virtues of Dr Sean Gabb. A lengthier series could be devoted to his manifold sins and naughtiness. Since Sean is so secretive about his actual birthday, I have decided to start this series some distance from the date itself. The first instalment is by yours truly.
How to begin? Well, if the term means anything, Sean Gabb has been my ‘best friend’ for more years than is medically recommended. Not only can I be sure we are always on the same page politically-speaking, but we also share many of the same social and cultural prejudices, and a common black sense of humour, not to mention cynicism by the bucketload. This is no small feat for both of us since he is without question an Enlightenment man – a Millian liberal, a religious sceptic, a believer in scientific Progress – and I am a Counter-Enlightenment Catholic. For all this, somehow our outlooks often represent two sides of the same coin.
For, both of us, for different reasons, love an historic England. Sean loves English customs and traditions because they are liberal, indeed, because they are liberalism; I love the less tangible, cultural aspect of Englishness, above all a kind of Stoicism and a peculiar fusion of liberalism with feudalism, and perhaps for less noble, universalist, humanitarian reasons than Sean, perhaps out of Victorian Romanticism, perhaps out of pure chauvinism. Both of these aspects, the cultural and the political, have been lost. Both Sean and I are therefore forced by present realities to combine our abstract, pristine liberalism, with an empirical, historical conservatism.
‘Isms’ do not often fuse well together. Take Christianity. Here we have a Hebrew tradition and a Greek tradition, God as personal and God as perfect. Irreconcilable. Or, they would be irreconcilable in the absence of a Person in whom the absurd and the contradictory may be found to be true. In theology, that Person is Jesus Christ. In politics, for me the first person was Sean. At a time, during my early teens, when I could quite easily have been forced to choose between one ism or another, Sean showed me how libertarians can be conservatives and how conservatives can be libertarians. I have since become more convinced of this than Sean – ever the sceptic, never quite convinced of anything – and without Sean I would never have met and come under the influence of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, the other great thinker today to whom both the ‘conservative’ and ‘libertarian’ labels may be applied without contradiction. Both men – Sean in an English way, and Hans in a more abstract, conceptual way – have made me the bizarre, reactionary, corporatist libertarian I am.
I flatter myself that the intellectual relationship has become more reciprocal over the years. When, in private conversation or in his writings, Sean veers too far into starry-eyed progressivism, I consider it my duty to give him a good dose of fire and brimstone reactionism and before you know it he’s sounding less like John Stuart Mill and more like Colonel Sibthorp. On the other hand, when I start sounding like a Catholic Hitler, it is Sean who works tirelessly behind the scenes to make me fit to re-enter the human race.
But I said Sean is my best friend. This obviously cannot be reduced to the intellectual influence he has exerted. It is also, however, harder for a stuffy, uptight Englishman to describe. Furthermore, if I attempted so to do, that is, to describe the great comfort he has been in times of great difficulty for me, and my own similar role for him, I fear the result would be as “crude, tasteless, and perfunctory” (see the ‘Bad Sex in Fiction Award’, made each year since 1993 by Literary Review) as redundant descriptions of sex in the modern novel. In other words, rather than describe or explain the more intimate aspects of our friendship for all and sundry to read – a task unrivalled in its grotesqueness and absurdity, whose results would produce only the most hysterical laughter – I’ll simply hope and pray that this friendship continues until one of us falls down dead. Bearing in mind Sean’s morbid obsession with his health and my studied disinterest in my own, there really is no telling which of us will go first.
Sean dates his membership of the libertarian movement from December 1979. Having read an advertisement in The Free Nation, he paid a visit to The Alternative Bookshop, and it was there, at 40 Floral Street, Covent Garden, surrounded by science fiction, civil liberties literature, and some economics, that he met Chris R. Tame, the manager of this “libertarian Mecca” and the Director of the Libertarian Alliance. Shortly before Tame’s death in 2006, Sean took over as Director. He also took up the informal position of “England’s Mr Libertarian” as Hans-Hermann Hoppe and a number of Americans would go on to call him.
To repeat what I said last January at a conference in London:
[For the last fourteen years] the libertarian movement in this country has looked to Sean as it once did to Chris Tame. At times Sean cut a lonely figure. Almost single-handedly, not only among British libertarians but among those on the Right generally, Sean put the case against the invasion of Iraq. Almost entirely single-handedly, he opposed the agenda of Political Correctness. Single-handedly, he drove the Conservative Party into meltdown when he published his list of Conservative parliamentary candidates who wouldn’t give a straight answer over European Union integration. For many years, Sean was the only British libertarian of note who would attend Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s conferences in Turkey. To many Americans, Sean has long been regarded – owing to his great eloquence, volubility, and boldness, in both the written and spoken word, and the relative silence or wishy-washiness of all the other libertarians – as the only libertarian in Britain.
The more mathematically able among you will have realised that this month of this year marks the fortieth anniversary of his membership of the libertarian movement, a rather different kind of birthday. Ever since that day in December 1979, Sean has been a practising and proselytising libertarian. I’ll end, as if to spite him, with the final verse of a favourite hymn:
Come, labour on!
No time for rest, till glows the western sky,
Till the long shadows o’er our pathway lie,
And a glad sound comes with the setting sun,
“Well done, well done!”
Jane Borthwick, (1813–1897)
From Walter Block:
Dear Young Man (I’m now 78, so I can get away with saying this):
It is my pleasure to welcome you to (young) dufferdom. I greatly enjoyed meeting you at Bodrum, being entertained by you, being inspired by you. I greatly look forward to when our paths next cross. Life begins at 60! I look forward to many more years of your writing and your friendship.
From Robert Carnaghan:
“Here’s wishing you a Happy Birthday, Sean, and Many Happy Returns. You have shown rare dedication to the cause of making the case for liberty. You put much thought into your writings. May your efforts long continue.”