The Reform Party UK is due to hold its very first party conference on October 3rd 2021 in Manchester. While political parties are not really my thing, in view of the potential importance of the Reform Party to the on-going battle for liberty in the UK, I have made plans to attend. I thought that before then I would look out their latest policy documents, refresh my memory as to what they are proposing, and make some comments on their ideas from my highly individualist and libertarian point of view. The document in which they have published their proposals is “Reform is Essential,” dated May 2021 [https://reformparty.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Reform-is-Essential.pdf].Continue reading
The Public/Private Problem
By Duncan Whitmore
For much of the history of classical liberalism and libertarianism, the primary battleground for freedom has been the economic arena. This is not difficult to understand given that the rise of Marxism and socialism towards the end of the nineteenth century (spawning the tyrannies of the twentieth) came on the back of economic promises: of freeing the workers from the supposed exploitation of the profit system, and imposing central control over industry for the benefit of “everyone”. This, in turn, focussed specific attention upon whether the means of production should be owned either privately or by the state, and which of these two options could furnish the highest standard of living.
As a result of this binary division, it became easy enough to regard capitalists, entrepreneurs, businesses, corporations and privatisations – i.e. anywhere where there is nominal private ownership over producer goods – as being automatically “good” on account of their efficiency, resourcefulness, competitiveness and affordability. On the other hand, anything that was state owned and/or state managed was afflicted by inefficiency, waste, and corruption, and so could be denigrated as “bad” without further question.
Of course, such a rule of thumb was validated empirically not only as the “capitalist” West had outshone the “communist” East by the end of the Cold War, but also within the UK as nationalised industries (such as the railways, steel manufacturing and coal mining) were run into the ground, while private businesses (such as supermarkets) flourished. Needless to say, the rule also reflects our understanding of just rights of ownership – that private ownership (as the result of either homesteading or voluntary exchange) is fully in accordance with the non-aggression principle and is therefore “good”, whereas state confiscation of previously owned goods is an egregious breach of that principle, and is therefore “bad”.Continue reading
How to Fight for Liberty, Part 6 – Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up
By Duncan Whitmore
In the previous two essays in this continuing series on fighting for liberty, we discussed the value of radicalism and then of conservatism in contributing towards a political strategy. A suggested reconciliation between these two, apparently different approaches centred on the fact that, on the one hand, libertarians must be uncompromisingly radical in terms of their rejection of the state; on the other hand, we must be conservative by encouraging this rejection from the bottom-up rather than imposing it from the top-down.
This part will explain in detail why this bottom-up approach is essential, and why all attempts at a top-down restructuring of the societal order are unlikely to ever result in a permanent victory for liberty.
The Top-Down Failure of Statism
Austro-libertarians are well accustomed to explaining why top-downism fails when it is proposed by statists. Socialism, for instance, suffers from the economic calculation problem. If the state owns all of the means of production across the entire economy then there is no trade in machines, tools and equipment. Without trade in these factors then they cannot command market prices. If there are no market prices then it is not possible for a state controlled planning board to undertake any kind of cost accounting. Without accountancy, there is no way of determining profits and losses. And if there are no profits or losses then you can never know whether scarce factors of production are being deployed efficiently or wastefully. The result is economic chaos as the capital structure deteriorates into a quagmire of wasteful surpluses of some goods and chronic shortages of others. In the former Soviet Union, for instance, fields of crops were left un-harvested because as much as one third of agricultural machinery stood idle owing to a shortage of spare parts.
Ultimately, however, all kinds of top-downism fail because they are fundamentally at odds with the nature of human beings – that we are each individuals with our own ends and desires, and that we each act within a local, limited environment so as to fulfil those desires. In human society (and often, for that matter, in the natural world), anything that can be observed as a complete, harmonious system is not the product of any one individual’s design or action in the way that a single architect may design a building or a sole author can write a novel. Rather, social systems are the amalgamation of thousands of individuals striving to fulfil their individual ends in such a way that nevertheless manages to mesh them into a coherent whole. Institutions such as culture, language, market prices, customary legal systems and money are of this ilk. No one person ever invented any of these, and yet we can clearly define them as singular entities that exist to fulfil human purposes in a conflict-free manner.Continue reading
Beating the COVID Statists
By Duncan Whitmore
It has been a while since I have written anything directly on the current COVID-induced nightmare, if only because we are all saturated with plenty of it from other sources, and much of what I could write has been written better elsewhere. But with the recent announcements that vaccination will be made mandatory for care home staff, and that proof of vaccination will be required to enter a nightclub and other “large gatherings” in the autumn, I thought I would try to arrest any despair this may have induced with a few words of optimism.
Of course, any such optimism is for the long term rather than for the short. It would be foolish to deny that the near future is going to be very a difficult one for a great many people, even if some semblance of liberty ends up prevailing in the end. Indeed, if I had to summarise the change in my own attitude that has taken place in the last eighteen months, it is from having previously regarded the British government as something of a nuisance to now being actively fearful of the kind of life that it will be able to impose upon us. We do not have the option of drowning ourselves in the false hope that it will all just go away. We do, though, have the tools of Austrian economics and libertarian theory to help us better understand what is going on – and it is understanding that is the first step towards overcoming fear.Continue reading
How to Fight for Liberty, Part Five – Conservatism
By Duncan Whitmore
In Part Four of this continuing series of Fighting for Liberty, we explored the nature of radicalism and its value for the fight for freedom. In this part, we will do the same for conservatism before concluding with some final remarks on reconciling conservatism with radicalism as part of a libertarian political strategy.
While a precise definition of conservatism is debatable, it seems reasonable enough to summarise it as a preference for traditional customs, conventions, cultures, and morality in addition to the institutions which uphold them. Contrary to the popular view of conservatism as rigid and uncompromising, it is not averse to change; the dedicated conservative is not trying to trap humanity in a time warp. He does, however, recognise that existing institutions – standing on the shoulders of centuries of human experience – must provide the starting point for any prospective change. In the words of Edward Feser, paraphrasing J L Austen: “[T]hough tradition […] might not always give us the last word, it must always give us the first word.”1 As such, change is likely to be relatively slow and undertaken within an evolutionary “arc of continuity”, with each new building block placed carefully upon one underneath instead of demolishing the entire foundation in revolutionary fervour. Another, more explicitly pro-freedom way of describing it, is a preference for “spontaneous” or “organic” order generated gradually by millions of individuals as opposed to consciously engineered order from the centre.
In the last part, we noted that libertarians – in contrast to Marxists and social engineers – simply do not have the option of demolition, of wiping the societal slate clean before merely “hoping” that liberty will prevail as the dust settles. Thus, adherence to conservatism in the manner described may assist the libertarian movement in two ways:
- It can help to nourish the non-state institutions that would be necessary to support social co-operation in the absence of the state, sensitising us to the level of cultural diversity that a given society can sustain;
- Given that liberty has flourished in the Western world more extensively than in any other, we should look to the specific cultural and institutional history of the West to determine why this is so.2
To at least some extent, therefore, we can see that libertarians need to adopt conservative attitudes.
However, it is abundantly clear that any efforts of modern conservatism to preserve freedom have been an abysmal failure, and if such conservatives today identify with freedom at all then it is either residual or in name only. In the UK, for instance, we are saddled with a governing Conservative Party that has not only implemented the greatest peacetime power grab in history as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, but is seemingly committed to vast state spending, the rampant greening of the economy, and the authoritarian policing of speech and censorship. While, therefore, such conservatism cannot be our model, it is useful to understand how it arrived at where it is so that libertarians can avoid its pitfalls if they are to adopt conservative attitudes as part of their strategy.Continue reading
By Neil Lock
This is the final essay of six in in a re-appraisal and re-working of my philosophical system. I am calling the new version of this system “Honest Common Sense 2.0.”
Today, it’s time (at last!) to offer some thoughts on how we might seek to move from where we are today towards a better world. Some of these ideas, I’ll warn in advance, may seem radical to many people. To some, even scary.
I’m going to try to make this essay as stand-alone as I can; so that even those who haven’t read the preceding five parts should be able to appreciate my points of view. To that end, I’ll begin with some brief summaries culled from the earlier essays.Continue reading
This is the funniest thing that has happened in politics in my lifetime! (Quite probably, the first funny thing in politics in my lifetime). I called in to my local Co-op this morning, saw in the newspaper rack the headline about recently appointed health secretary Sajid Javid catching the COVID virus, and couldn’t stop laughing! When I got home and looked up some more, my laughs became belly-laughs.
Sky News tells us that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, as recent contacts of Javid, were phoned directly by NHS people, not pinged by the app. And that “legally” requires them to self-isolate for 10 days! Heh heh heh. Boot. Foot. Other. Hoist. Petard. Own.
I do hope that this will lead to a proper debate on what “the rule of law” is. In my view, it means that the rules we are expected to follow must be the same for everyone, with no exceptions – even for government. But I’m not holding my breath yet. The media are so corrupt that they are still with the establishment. As witness the “on-line safety bill,” intended to silence people who oppose the establishment, that makes exceptions for those “qualified” as “journalists.”
If I compare politics to a game of chess, Javid is a genius player. With one move, he has neutralized both the current incumbent and his main rival for the Tory party leadership. And he hasn’t been in his place long enough to be held responsible for the situation. Gove is already compromised by his recent trip to Portugal. When the Tory rank and file get restive this winter after lockdowns are re-imposed, who will they turn to? David Davis? Steve Baker? Or Javid? I can’t think of any other candidates.
For the avoidance of doubt, I do wish Sajid Javid a speedy and complete recovery from the coronavirus.