Recent Libertarians Articles

Snow offers a case for big government

by Sunder Katwala     January 11, 2010 at 11:15 am

‘Big government’ is often attacked as political rhetoric. In the abstract, we all like to be agin it.

Yet, on every specific issue, from child protection to the collapse of the banks, most of the public calls are very often for government to do more.

Especially when it snows.

I would suppose that a ‘big government’ approach to heavy snowfall would place a good deal of emphasis on local Councils as having the taxpayer-financed responsibility for clearing the roads, and letting business and life carry on as far as possible, and paying particular attention to vital emergency services.

Mightn’t a ‘social responsibility’ approach suggest we should rally around and sort it out for ourselves?
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Libertarian Party surges in Canada

by Don Paskini     December 16, 2009 at 1:00 pm

The province of Alberta in Canada has for many years been a Conservative stronghold. In last year’s elections, the governing Progressive Conservatives got 53% of the vote.

But at the end of 2009, the Conservatives are trailing a new party called the Wildrose Alliance. The Alliance includes both libertarian and socially conservative factions, and is led by libertarian Danielle Smith, the former Director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

Recent polls in the province put the Alliance on 39%, ahead of the Conservatives and Liberals on 25% and the New Democratic Party on 9%.
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Even Dan Hannan opposes the ban on minarets

by Neil Robertson     December 1, 2009 at 3:00 pm

Is it still committing heresy to link favourably to right wing Tory MEP Daniel Hannan? Ah well, I was never going to be invited to the Cool Kids’ table anyway:

The decision by Swiss voters to outlaw the construction of minarets strikes me as regrettable on three grounds.

First, it is at odds with that other guiding Swiss principle, localism: issues of this kind ought surely to be settled town by town, or at least canton by canton, not by a national ban.

Second, it is disproportionate. There may be arguments against the erection of a particular minaret by a particular mosque – but to drag a constitutional amendment into the field of planning law is using a pneumatic drill to crack a nut.

Third, it suggests that Western democracies have a problem, not with jihadi fruitcakes, but with Muslims per se – which is, of course, precisely the argument of the jihadi fruitcakes.

Hannan’s last point is surely the most important. Whilst there may have been a few Swiss voters who voted for the ban solely out of aesthetic antipathy, I suspect they were somewhat outnumbered by people who voted because they are suspicious, wary or even scared of their Muslim countrymen.

If a number of amateur bloggers can speculate that fear of Muslims led to this vote, you can be pretty sure that Swiss Muslims have gotten the message, too. And therein lies the problem; othering often leads to more marginalisation, segregation, exclusion, distrust and bitterness than existed before. Those are pretty ripe conditions for political and religious extremism to fester, and so the proponents of the ban are actually succeeding in compounding a problem they supposedly wish to reduce. So they’re either dishonest or deeply daft.

I’m not going to claim that there’s some silver bullet for achieving greater social & cultural integration, and I’m not going to pass myself off as any kind of expert about extinguishing militant theism. But I do know that neither of those aims are going to be achieved by winning small-minded & petty restrictions on what religious buildings look like.

Conservatives and Libertarians – How do you spot the difference?

by Unity     October 20, 2009 at 1:04 pm

A little over a week or so ago, John Elledge sparked off a fair degree of consternation in libertarian ranks by making the all too common and, to an extent, understandable mistake of confusing genuine philosophical libertarians with those on the conservative right who’ve co-opted the term ‘libertarian’ as a a pseudo-intellectual fig-leaf for their belief in the merits of tax cuts and an unfettered right to air their bigoted opinions with total impunity.

John’s post prompted an interesting and, at times, heated debate in comments, one that included a rare off-Samizdata appearance by Perry de Havilland, along with a commentary by Bella Gerens (aka Mrs Devil) that’s well worth a look, but what neither provide – and to be fair I doubt that this was Bella’s objective – is a clear and readily digestible exposition of the central difference(s) between a libertarian ( or liberal, for that matter) and a conservative.

With libertarian ideas becoming more and more influential as many of us start to look beyond the established, and in many respects increasingly discredited, political order towards a ‘new politics’ of some description, it strikes me that there’s a need to bottom out this difference if we’re raise the level of debate above that of fighting of who’s most adept at burning straw men and that, in turn, brings me a couple of quotations from two of the great political antagonists of the late 18th Century which, as I see it, articulate exactly the kind of distinction we should be mindful of.

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.” – Thomas Paine (1737-1809)

“Men are qualified for civil liberties in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their appetites: in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity” – Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

You may disagree, but as I see it those two short quotations more than adequately sum up the fundamental difference between the archetypal liberal/libertarian and conservative view of both liberty and, indeed, of human nature.

For Paine, liberty, and the rights and freedoms associated with it, is a universal principle and, as important, indivisible. Liberty is for everyone, irrespective of their station in life or their personal and/or moral character. It is natural right, albeit one that other liberal, and particularly, contractarian thinkers, who were deeply sceptical of the Lockean doctrine of natural rights, were able to derive by other means.

Universalism of this kind is the defining characteristic of classical, enlightenment, liberalism, in which both modern liberalism and libertarianism are, to varying degrees, rooted.

Burke, on the other hand, sets out the classical conservative position on liberty, and by extension on human rights, one that holds that civil liberties, in particular, should be dispensed to general population in to their moral rectitude and personal/collective character.

In the modern political idiom that principle is most frequently to be found in the populist political rhetoric that has more or less defined the public discourse on criminal justice since the introduction of the markedly universalist Human Rights Act. Whenever a contrast is drawn between the presumed ‘rights of victims’ or the ‘rights of law-abiding citizens’ and the ‘rights of criminals/terrorists’ then what you’re seeing is latter-day Burkean conservativism in action – and that is true irrespective of whether the individual invoking this heavily qualified view of liberty is an actual conservative or, as has frequently been the case in recent years, a minister in the current New Labour government.

In fact this is no less true when you find it reflected in Rosa Luxemburg’s famous, and endearingly pithy, critique of the kind of post-revolutionary Bolshevism that would eventually spawn Stalinism.

Freedom only for the members of the government, only for the members of the Party — though they are quite numerous — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always the freedom of dissenters. The essence of political freedom depends not on the fanatics of ‘justice’, but rather on all the invigorating, beneficial, and detergent effects of dissenters. If ‘freedom’ becomes ‘privilege’, the workings of political freedom are broken.

All of which explains, in part, why many on the left regard Stalin as a conservative rather than a socialist or Marxist.

So, it you’re at all unsure as to how to spot a Tory masquerading as a libertarian, just ask them whether they believe that victims of crime, or just plain old law-abiding citizens have different rights to criminals.

If the answer’s ‘yes’, then you’ve got yourself a Tory (or a cabinet minister).

If the answer’s ‘no’ and they go to explain that both have the same fundamental rights but that the criminal’s freedom to exercise those rights may be legitimately, and temporarily, constrained in order to protect the rights and freedoms of others, then you’ve got yourself a liberal or libertarian.


Are all libertarians this childish?

by Jonn Elledge     October 10, 2009 at 12:10 pm

When you were a child, the world revolved around you. All that mattered was your meals and your toys and, if you were lucky, you had a galaxy of benign grown ups to bring them to you.

For the first few years of our life we’re all convinced of this simplistic worldview, until, sometime around the age of four, we start getting to grips with the idea that other people have desires and ambitions that are different to, but just as valid as, our own.

Unless, that is, you’re a libertarian.

Last weekend my work took me to Manchester for the Tory conference. There I spent a slightly worrying hour in the ‘freedom zone‘, a fringe venue where those who felt the Conservative party had become too namby-pamby and left-wing had set up camp.

The theme of the meeting was ‘the bully state’, and the panel included Roger Helmer, the MEP for East Midlands. Mr Helmer made a gallant defence of his rights to get pissed, stuff his face, pollute his lungs, and ruin the atmosphere by driving as fast as he likes in a great gas-guzzling monstrosity. People were sick of being told how to live, he said. The state should butt out.
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Is Dan Hannan really a libertarian?

by Guest     August 27, 2009 at 2:59 pm

contribution by Soho Politico

As we have all now read, yet another recorded interview with culture warrior Daniel Hannan has surfaced and caused much controversy.

What I’m interested in is the defence of Daniel Hannan over this emanating from the right.

Their claim is that Hannan’s lionising of Powell is benign, because he never associated himself with Powell’s views about immigration specifically, and is in any case personally a ‘libertarian’ on borders.
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Quote of the day

by Chris Barnyard     August 21, 2009 at 1:43 pm

A bit of light entertainment on a Friday afternoon from Freeborn John:

LPUK [Libertarian Party UK] showed some early promise, I thought, but seems to have turned into the saloon bar at a home counties golf club; its members have, for some reason, elected as their leader a cross between Captain Mainwaring and David Icke.

All very odd.

Why we should take Hannan-ism seriously

by Sunder Katwala     August 17, 2009 at 8:43 am

Here are three reasons why Hannanism matters rather more than some of its slightly more moderate supporters will want to admit last weekend.

1. The big idea:
Hannan is both the most strident and the most feted contemporary British advocate of what has been the dominant idea in the Anglo-American right for the last thirty years. The idea is: “less state equals more freedom”.

There is still every reason to think that this remains the dominant ideological belief in the Conservative Party.

Listen carefully to debates on the right and objections to Hannanism are often matters of strategy and tactics. Many Conservatives disagree with the vehemence with which Hannan expresses his views. But these are usually differences of degree, rather than differences of directionality. Few want to go as far as Hannan in taking arguments to their logical conclusion.

So the content of Hannanism – less state, less tax, less regulation, less Europe – remains the content of most Conservative public advocacy.
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How Tory bloggers spun Coulson

by Carl Packman     July 15, 2009 at 3:38 pm

There has been an intriguing side-show to Coulsongate / NotW blagging story: the speed at which many Tory bloggers came out to distance themselves from Coulson, to Guido Fawkes who insisted that the Guardian were wasting their time with the whole issue. Yesterday showed that not to be the case at all.

And indeed the affair raises some very important questions about the context of bloggers versus lobby journalists.
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Nick Clegg: more libertarian than he thinks

by Stuart White     February 20, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Having just listened to a very interesting IPPR podcast from their event last week featuring Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, it is clear that this thing called ‘liberalism’ matters enormously to him.

He is, perhaps, the Liberal Democrat leader who has given most emphasis to the ‘liberal’ dimension of Liberal Democrat thought. It is hugely refres
hing to see a politician willing to go out and make a case for ‘liberalism’ in this way. Clegg is a politician of genuine ideas, and, as one might expect, there is a lot in his speech which liberals in the Labour party (like me) would agree with.

But just what kind of liberal is Nick Clegg?

[Update: Evan Harris MP defends his party in the comments]
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