English libertarian Sean Gabb recently gave an excellent speech, “Libertarianism: Left or Right?”, to the Manchester Liberty League; his blogpost is reproduced below. The the audio file is here, and also streaming below.
Sean Gabb, speaking to the Manchester Liberty League on the 2nd December 2011.
In early 19th century England, radical liberals – who may be regarded as libertarians on account of their views - were often in sharp opposition to conservatives. As such, always allowing for the overall lack of meaning to the term, these people were on the “left.”
By the end of the 19th century, people holding the same views had often closely associated themselves with the conservatives.
The reason was that the growth of municipal socialism and the increasing volume of collectivist legislation – usually brought in by Liberals. The Liberty and Propery Defence League was set up by conservatives and classical liberals to resist this growth of statism; and our libertarian ancestors became identified, and identified themselves, as on the “right.”
This identification was completed by the state socialist revolution in Russia. Between 1920 and 1990, politics became a tug of war. You could choose your ideological views. Once this was chosen, however, you gave up all control over which end of the rope you would be pulling. You also gave up any choice of allies.
This has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The tug of war is over. We are free at last to have a good look at our allies; and big business is not particularly libertarian. Actually existing capitalism is largely the economic wing of an exploitative ruling class. It benefits from limited liability laws, infrastructure subsidies, and tax and regulatory systems that favour large scale business.
Now that we no longer risk becoming useful idiots for the Communist Party, we should be reaching out to ordinary working people and explaining how big business and big government stand in their way.
So far as left and right have any real meaning, libertarians should align themselves on the left as well as on the right.
This little review is chock full of great insights. He explains that the EU, while it does not really infringe UK sovereignty–”this country is governed from London, and by our own ruling class–has “help[ed] make the exercise of power by this ruling class less accountable.” He gives the example of metrification foisted on the country in 1995. Gabb points out that the British Government ignores other EU directives when it wants to (Gabb gives examples). But when it enacts a law based on an EU directive, it provides cover for the politicians who can just point to the EU and blame it on them. This allows special interest groups like the big four supermarkets to lobby the state to pass laws that harm smaller competitors, and the politicians to be absolved of blame by pointing to the EU Directive they “have” to enact (even though the ignore others). The larger grocery stores can afford the expense of retraining but hobble smaller grocery stores.
This is yet another example of how big businesses are actually in support of supposedly “anti-business” regulations since it helps to protect them from competition. Rothbard has pointed this out many times as I note in this post.
By the way, I recommend Gabb’s novel The Churchill Memorandum and also his excellent Literary Essays, both linked at his site. About the latter book I wrote the following for a back cover blurb: “Libertarians have sound ideas but are not always great writers, and are not usually authorities on literature and literary matters. Rarer still is the literary essayist who is not confused or ignorant about politics and economics. It is thus refreshing to encounter Sean Gabb’s literary writing. A long-time libertarian activist and writer who is also a superb novelist and literary essayist, an honest and clear writer, he is our modern libertarian man of letters. This splendid and sparkling collection of essays provides fascinating insights into literature and other literary topics, without the typical leftist baggage and economic illiteracy.”) [Keep reading…]
Here in America it has been difficult to get good reports about everything that is happening in Egypt. Every reporter has some agenda; they are more interested in making you fit their story, than making the story fit you. Still, even with the limited information available, I can see that what you managed to do is impressive.
Organizing non-violent protests to stand up to a brutal dictator takes courage. Bringing down a government supported by a super-power takes dedication. That you managed to do this without waging a war makes your success all the more admirable. You have given hope to the oppressed and energized the defenders of liberty in every nation. We are all inspired by your example: in the midst of the chaos, Muslims and Christians took turns protecting one another’s religious worship; in the absence of police, private citizens organized security to protect lives and property; when confronted by armed thugs, you held your ground in defense of liberty. For all that you have done, and for all that I hope you will achieve, I salute your bravery, integrity, and honor.