How to Fight for Liberty, Part One – Theory and Politics


How to Fight for Liberty, Part One – Theory and Politics

By Duncan Whitmore

“[T]he libertarian revolution is not the work of a day – or a decade – or a lifetime. It is a continuous process through the ages. […] There is a tendency among many libertarians to look for an apocalyptic moment when the State will be smashed forever and anarchy prevail. When they realize that the great moment isn’t about to come in their time, if ever, they lose faith in the integrity and plausibility of the libertarian philosophy […] Such attitudes are naive and not [to be] expected from mature sophisticated men of learning […] libertarianism can quite easily become merely an adolescent fantasy in minds that are immature and unseasoned by a broad humanistic understanding. It should not be an idée fixe or magic formula, but a moral imperative with which one approaches the complexities of social reality.”

                        – Joseph R Peden1

If one was pressed to choose the words which have been the most influential to one’s personal commitment to liberty, it would, for me, be the passage from which this quotation was lifted. For one thing, the reality that Peden paints maintains a healthy balance: the struggle to achieve a freer world is a long and difficult one that will not be won in any quick victory, but such a long term view helps to insulate one from the myopia of frustrating day-to-day problems thrown at us by the twenty-four hour news cycle. Indeed, I have often returned to these words whenever the clouds of despotism have gathered in a particularly angry shade of grey – a not infrequent occurrence during the past year or so.

The main reason for their importance , however, is that they have been a consistent impetus towards thinking and rethinking about how a freer world will be brought about. Indeed, it is interesting to note that the passage comes not from one of the tomes of Austro-libertarian literature (Peden was not a great scholar) but from a 1971 article in The Libertarian Forum magazine, the publication initiated by Peden and Murray N Rothbard in the late 1960s in order to cater for the growing libertarian movement. Its aim at a popular, rather than scholarly audience is more than symbolic, because such an audience provides the key to so much about how to fight for liberty in the real world – and the key to why modern libertarians have struggled with this endeavour.

This is the first part in a series of essays which will attempt to challenge some (unacknowledged) assumptions with regards to the way in which libertarians think about their philosophy, its relationship to political activism, and the criteria for success. What will emerge is not a precise blueprint for political activism, but we can hope to re-orientate our thinking so that the groundwork for a more successful path can be laid. To avoid undue length, we will endeavour to deal with only one major topic in each essay.

In this part, we will deal with the fact that, while most libertarians realise that their philosophy is radically different from political philosophies which use/accommodate/excuse/justify the state, they have been comparatively slow to realise that this radical differentiation should apply also to their political activism. Continue reading

Why we are Where we Are – Part Two


Why we are Where we Are – Part Two

By Duncan Whitmore

In Part One of this two-part series of essays we explained how events in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries shifted Western society from a preponderance of the “economic means” to the “political means” characterised by a transition away from the tendencies on the right hand side of the following table to those on the left hand side:

Fig. A

In this essay, we will explore the moral and cultural gulfs that are now swallowing Western society (addressing the puzzling question of why the right has been so defenceless against it), before examining how Western liberal democratic polity over the past thirty years has produced the situation in which we find ourselves today. Continue reading

Why we are Where we are – Part One


Why we are Where we are – Part One 

By Duncan Whitmore

Margaret Thatcher is supposed to have once said that “the facts of life are conservative”. An equivalent for libertarians is “the facts of life are Austrian”. We may well dispute the justice, inevitability or even desirability of the libertarian ethic of non-aggression, but one cannot escape the fact that the corpus of economic law, derived from the self-evident proposition that individuals act, is undeniably true. So however much you may yearn for some form of centralised economic planning or state management to abolish all “exploitation” before building castles in the land of milk and honey, this economic law cannot be defied for ever and, eventually, reality must come back to bite you on the arse. Amongst the myopia of COVID-19 and the furore of the culture war, a broader perspective of the era we are living through – and probably have been living through since 2008 at the latest – will reveal a culminating fight between a massive reassertion of economic law on the one hand and increasing attempts to continue the defiance on the other.

This essay, the first of two parts, will explore the paths that have been taken prior to our arrival at the political, economic and social situation in which we find ourselves in the early twenty-first century. In Part Two we will look specifically at the ongoing culture war before examining the consequences of all of these dynamics. From this, readers may be able to see how year’s this calamities – barely imaginable just six or seven months ago – have resulted from the choices that have been made in the past. Continue reading

Matthieu Creson on Globalisation: A Comment


Matthieu Creson on Globalisation: A Comment 

By Duncan Whitmore

In a recent essay posted on this blog, Matthieu Creson decried the apparent retreat from globalisation in the wake of COVID-19 and “the withdrawal of countries into themselves”, risking the loss of “what has been for more than half a century one of the main growth drivers” in rich countries and poor countries alike. While Creson is right to be concerned by the possible return of protectionism and economic isolationism, his monolithic conception of globalisation is unlikely to prove helpful when defending its beneficial elements.

Creson is more than keen to explain to us what these beneficial elements of globalisation are:

Extreme poverty affected more than a third of the world’s population in 1990; today it only concerns 10% of this same population, even though the world has seen in the meantime an increase in population of 2 billion human beings. What is more, there has been a drop in infant mortality of more than 50% […] Every day, and in spite of the increase in world population, 140,000 people are able to escape from extreme poverty.

He does not, however, detail specifically the precise qualities of globalisation that produce these marvellous results. Quite a few times, Creson complains that problems caused by the state and statism, such as environmental disasters, are blamed for being “intrinsically linked to globalized capitalism alone”, and that “whenever a world crisis breaks out, they always blame it on globalized liberal capitalism, which they see as moribund”:

Globalization has always functioned as a convenient scapegoat, which saves us from having to acknowledge the (often statist) origins of the evils for which we make globalization unduly responsible.

But he offers no reason as to why academics, pundits and commentators are seemingly able to get away with this blame game so easily when, as he rightly recognises, it is usually states that cause these problems whereas the kinds of economic progress brought about by globalisation can and should ameliorate them. Continue reading

The Overpopulation Myth


The Overpopulation Myth

By Duncan Whitmore

In addition to the alleged problem of human induced climate change, the leftist/elitist/environmentalist/anti-human monologue is beginning to make increasingly explicit noises about the equally mythical problem of overpopulation. “Too many people” is often blamed on a number of apparent calamities, right from the shortage of particular (usually “essential”) resources all the way up to the outright poverty of entire continents, not to mention the effect of population growth upon the supposed “climate emergency” itself. Although few states have enacted explicit policies in order to stop their citizenry from procreating, factoids such as the suggestion that a dozen earths would be needed for every single human to enjoy a Western lifestyle attempt to create an unwarranted degree of hysteria. Of course, the fact that the notion of population control jars with the liberal attitude towards open borders (which can lead to the very real problem of local overpopulation), and that those calling for population reduction never seem willing to offer their own necks for the chopping block are both challenges that are seldom raised. Indeed, in response to the proclamation of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Wokeness, that they will have only two children in order to “save the planet”, one is tempted to ask why they are bothering to breed at all if the problem is really that serious. Very few of the rest of us, no doubt, would have a great deal of concern if the liberal-left refused to pass its genes on to future generations.

As we shall see here, overpopulation can never be a serious or long lasting issue when there is a society distinguished by free market capitalism. It does, however, have the potential to be a serious problem when a society is blighted by state interference (although the primary effects are still likely to be local rather than general). Continue reading

What about the Poor?!


What about the Poor?!

By Duncan Whitmore

When discussing the virtues of a free society libertarians are able to expound with enthusiasm the benefits of private property, free exchange and non-violence. Most of the nagging questions – “how would policing work?”; “how would we regulate unscrupulous companies?”; or the clichéd classic “who will build the roads?!” – can be dealt with fairly straightforwardly as it is not difficult to show how such a free society would deal with these matters in a vastly superior way to one that is imbued with statism. Indeed, the struggle in this regard has less to do with formulating convincing arguments and more to do with tackling an inherent unwillingness to consider radical solutions.

However, there is one question that always presents a seemingly insurmountable difficulty – what would happen to the poor? By this, we do not just mean the accusations of a free economy being “sink or swim” or “dog eat dog”, which, again, are relatively juvenile sound bites that can be disposed of fairly easily. (Indeed, it is social democracies that are the true zero sum games as any redistribution of wealth or gain of power to the benefit of one must necessarily come at the expense of another). Rather, what we mean is the fact that a free world has no means of “caring” for the poor. In particular, there would be no “official” institution or “social safety net” to help those who were genuinely less fortunate. A libertarian might mumble a few words about the importance of charity but, with an outright declaration by one’s opponent that such a system is necessary, one may be tempted to concede that this is the Achilles’ heel of a libertarian society. After all, statists excel at conjuring the illusion that all of the care and compassion is on their side while they are able, quite easily, to paint proponents of the free market as little more than selfish money grabbers.

It is high time that libertarians (and their free market oriented fellow travellers) took the offensive against this problem by turning an apparent weakness into an advantage. By offensive, we mean not just constructing adequate rebuttals to the charge that capitalism cannot care for the poor. Rather, we need to set ourselves the more ambitious goal of proving that capitalism benefits the least well off as its primary effect, and that the poor do not benefit merely as an incidental consequence of making the rich richer. Continue reading

Economic Myths #13 – Wealth Inequality and “The 1%”


Economic Myths #13 – Wealth Inequality and “The 1%”

By Duncan Whitmore

The inequality of wealth and income is a frequent bone of contention in the mainstream media. According to The Guardian, 1% of the world’s population will own two-thirds of its wealth by the year 2030. A typical response to this kind of revelation is the following utterance from the Executive Director of Oxfam in 2015:

An explosion of inequality [is] holding back the fight against poverty. Do we really want to live in a world where 1% own more than the rest of us combined?

The mainstream debate over this issue fails to understand the true nature of the problem (although, interestingly, The Guardian article referred to above is unusually far sighted in recognising some of the causes of inequality).

The pro-free market side is wont to point out that such inequality “doesn’t matter” and that governments should not do anything to interfere with the progress of business. The likely call from the opposite side, however, is for increased taxation and redistribution and, indeed, Oxfam itself stressed the need for a greater crackdown on tax avoidance by large, multinational corporations. However, the reality is much more nuanced than the false dichotomy between “pro-business” and “pro-government/anti-poverty”. Continue reading