I have a fondness for Enoch Powell that I never could manage for Margaret Thatcher. Perhaps that’s because I was indoctrinated to hate Thatcher and had never heard of Powell before last Saturday, when Wikipedia noted the 45th anniversary of the so-called Rivers of Blood speech for which he is infamous.
Both Thatcher and Powell were British politicians. Both were Conservatives. (Powell eventually left the Conservative party, claiming that while he was a life-long Tory, there were good Tories in the Labour Party. I guess I don’t really understand Toryism.) Both Thatcher and Powell are targets of left-wing hatred and smeared as proto-fascists. (See Lawrence Reed on the recent anti-Thatcher hatefest in the UK.) And I suspect the British Left would have a hard time distinguishing either of them politically from libertarians. We’re all ultra right wing, radically free market, and anti progress, aren’t we?
Powell rose to political stardom at the same time he fell from political power. On April 20, 1968, he gave a speech criticizing the British government’s existing immigration laws and its proposed anti-discrimination legislation. Everywhere I’ve looked for information on this speech and the speechmaker, these two issues have been conflated, and yet to a libertarian they could not be more different.
On one of these, Powell seems to be in accord with us. On the other, not so much.
Calls for the state to control or limit immigration are antithetical to the libertarian goal of limiting or eliminating the state itself.
(Unplanned plug: at Invisible Order we just completed our second ebook for Reason magazine, and it happens to be apropos: Pro-Growth and Humane: A Reason Guide to Immigration Reform.)
On the other hand, any law that prohibits individuals from discriminating on any basis they choose is a violation of the fundamental rights of free association and free thought. This line from Powell’s speech, which one detractor called an “explosion of bigotry,” could not be more in accord with libertarian thinking:
The third element of the Conservative Party’s policy is that all who are in this country as citizens should be equal before the law and that there shall be no discrimination or difference made between them by public authority. As Mr. Heath has put it, we will have no “first-class citizens” and “second-class citizens”. This does not mean that the immigrant and his descendants should be elevated into a privileged or special class or that the citizen should be denied his right to discriminate in the management of his own affairs between one fellow citizen and another or that he should be subjected to inquisition as to his reasons and motives for behaving in one lawful manner rather than another.
What is not at all in accord with liberty is Powell’s suggestion that the British taxpayer provide “generous grants and assistance” to help immigrants leave the UK. (Paul McCartney apparently considered some Enoch-specific lyrics in the Beatles song “Get Back (to Where You Once Belonged)” but they didn’t make it into the final release.)
If Margaret Thatcher was the British Ronald Reagan (or vice versa), perhaps Enoch Powell was the British Pat Buchanan (or vice versa). Like Buchanan, Powell was an ultra-nationalist. Like Buchanan, he consistently took positions in opposition to the main party line of his country’s conservatives. Powell supported gay rights and opposed nuclear weapons, at least within Britain. He advocated the dismantling of the British Empire.
Unlike Buchanan, Powell often advocated for free-market positions, although he seems, like Buchanan, to have had a soft spot for economic nationalism (which consistently takes the form of protecting the nation’s producers at the expense of the nation’s consumers).
While writing this post, I thought I should double-check to see if Murray Rothbard had had anything to say about Enoch Powell back in the day. Here’s the Libertarian Forum on the British elections of 1974:
Decades of horrific British policies have created a rigid, stratified, and cartellized economy, a set of frozen power blocs integrated with Big Government: namely, Big Business and Big Labor. Even the most cautious and gradualist of English libertarians now admit that only a radical political change can save England. Enoch Powell is the only man on the horizon who could be the sparkplug for such a change. It is true, of course, that for libertarians Enoch Powell has many deficiencies. For one thing he is an admitted High Tory who believes in the divine right of kings; for another, his immigration policy is the reverse of libertarian. But on the critical issues in these parlous times: on checking the inflationary rise in the money supply, and on scuttling the disastrous price and wage controls, Powell is by far the soundest politician in Britain. A sweep of Enoch Powell into power would hardly be ideal, but it offers the best existing hope for British freedom and survival. (Libertarian Forum, March 1974)
And 8 months later:
Amidst this turmoil, the most heartening sign is the rapid growth of libertarians and anarcho-capitalists in a country that only a few years ago had virtually no one even as "extreme" as Milton Friedman. The major libertarian group is centered around Pauline Russell, and includes businessmen, journalists, economists, and others ranging from anarcho-capitalists to neo-Randians to the Selsdon Group, the free-market ginger group within the Conservative Party. Most of this group is friendly with the notable Enoch Powell, who of all the politicians in England is the only one with both the knowledge and the will to stop the monetary inflation and to put through a free market program and an end to wage and price controls. Powell, himself, despite his Tory devotion to the monarchy (which is seconded even by many of the English anarcho-capitalists), has grown increasingly libertarian. The Powell forces were working on a gusty strategy for the then forthcoming October elections: voting Labour in order to smash the statist leadership of Edward Heath. (Libertarian Forum, November 1974)
(Cross-posted at bkmarcus.com.)