Monthly Archives: February 2012

The corrective medicine for media abuse is a statutory right to reply

Robert Henderson

Paul Dacre, the editor of Britain’s largest selling newspaper the Daily Mail, appeared before the Leveson Inquiry into press abuse on 7 February 2012.  He made the  astonishing  proposal that in everything but name journalists should be licensed. Here is the thrust of what he said from the transcript of his evidence (pp 28/29

“As you’ve said, there have been several calls to  your Inquiry for the licensing of journalists. It is clearly unacceptable. However, I do believe there’s an opportunity to build on existing haphazard press card system — there are 17 bodies at the moment providing these cards — by transforming it into an essential kite  mark for ethical and proper journalism. The key would be to make the cards available only — only – to  members of print news-gathering organisations or magazines who have signed up to the new body and its code.

“The public at large would know the journalists carrying such cards are bona fide operators, committed to a set of standards and a body to whom complaints can be made. Reporters and photographers would use the cards as proof that they are responsible journalists.

“There would, however, be universal agreement that briefings and press conferences by government bodies, local authorities and the police, access to sporting, royal and celebrity events, material from the BBC and ITV, and information from medical and scientific bodies would only, only be given to accredited journalists. It  would, after all, be in the interests of those bodies to agree to this, as many of their members make complaints to the PCC. Indeed, such bodies would have — or shouldn’t have access to the new regulator if they dealt with a non-accredited journalist.

“It is my considered view that no publisher could survive if its reporters and writers were barred from such vital areas of journalistic interest. It would be part of the civil contract, if you like, that the ombudsman figure would have the right to recommend that accredited journalists guilty of gross malfeasance have their press cards cancelled, as the GMC strikes off doctors.”

What Dacre is proposing is a quasi-judicial body which is run by the press which can restrict the right to be a professional journalist in much the same way that the showbiz union Equity try  to control entry into the entertainment business by restricting employment to Equity members. Dacre was unclear about  how the ombudsman for the press was to be appointed, although he did not rule out some form of government involvement:

“Q.(Jay Counsel to the Inquiry)  You say it would require the universal agreement of a number of bodies, including governments, don’t you?

 A. (Dacre)  Mm-hm.

 Q. (Jay) So the industry does it, but government would have to agree to it; is that right?

A. (Dacre) I think it would be in the governing — for press  briefings of ministries and lobby arrangements, I mean, why shouldn’t they subscribe to that? If journalists abuse those systems, then they should have right of  redress against those journalists.” ( – P31)

There are two dangers. One is that government could be directly  involved with the potential to be the dominant player in who was given a press card or who had one withdrawn. Because the new regulatory body could be represented to the public as being self-regulation, government could have its regulatory cake and eat it: control the regulation  while not being thought by the public to do so.

The other obnoxious outcome would be this:  such a system  would allow the mainstream media to both control rigidly who was employed by them and hold the threat of the withdrawal of the press card  over the heads of anyone who did not toe the corporate line.

Whether it was the government or the mainstream media itself wielding the power, anyone with views which were at odds with the prevailing elite ideology could find themselves excluded if they are judged to have “wrong” political opinions. It is worth adding that there is a great deal of collusion between the media and politicians already, with many riding the two horses at different times and some, like the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, riding both at the same time.

Dacre argued that his proposed system would not be licensing  because people without press cards could still write and broadcast. Those are weasel words because to be excluded from the mainstream media is effectively to be silenced in the overwhelming majority of cases.

Anyone who believes in the freedom of the press should understand that we want no regulatory body including the PCC, let alone one which licenses journalists. The remedy for media abuse is  a  statutory right of reply (RoR). This is the  thing of journalistic nightmares. That tells you it is the best remedy for those who cannot afford to sue for libel. But the media is looking a gift horse in the mouth for a RoR would provide the strongest guard against any government desire to formally regulate newspapers and to further interfere with broadcasters, because an effective cheap means of rapid redress available to everyone, including politicians incidentally, capsizes the prime argument for state regulation. A RoR is the perfect non-political remedy for media abuse because it is a self-sustaining and self-regulating mechanism.

Costs could easily be kept low. First, by making libel the only reason for refusing a RoR and then only for that part of a proposed reply which was libellous. Second, by empowering Small Claims Courts to decide whether a claimed libel exists and, if the court does not agree that it does, to order the newspaper or broadcaster to publish the disputed reply. There should be no higher court appeal against the Small Claims Court’s decision unless the appellant pays both sides’ costs. This would allow justice while preventing those seeking a RoR from being intimidated out of their right by the threat of heavy costs.

How would it work?

The qualification for a RoR would be simple and objective: a media outlet has printed or broadcast material about an individual.

In the case of newspapers I would give a respondent 300 words as an automatic right and another 500 words for every 1000 words published about him or her over 1500 words. The respondent’s reply should be printed on the same page as the story to which they are responding. If the newspaper responds to a reply then the person responded to would get another RoR.

Broadcasting is more problematic but a written reply by the person criticised could be read out on air. Where the person has the confidence to speak for themselves, they should be allowed to broadcast their reply.

Practical fears

The media will say that this is completely impractical, that their papers and broadcasts would be full of nothing but replies. In fact, the general experience of the introduction of new opportunities offered to the public is that there is an initial burst of activity which soon settles down to a hard core of those willing to make the effort. If the introduction of a right to reply proved the sociological odd man out and the media was overwhelmed, the system could be reviewed.

A narrow RoR would be worthless. A RoR should not be limited to inaccuracy. There is often no easy way of proving the truth or otherwise of ostensible “facts”. If a RoR was restricted to inaccuracy, the media would assuredly undermine it by arguing interminably.

Then there is opinion. This is often more damaging than inaccuracy. Moreover, there is no clear distinction between fact and opinion. Suppose I write of an actress that “she is a whore”that is a statement of fact which, in principle, can be tested objectively. But what if I write “she has the morals of a whore”? Is that fact or opinion?

The present non-legal remedies

These are both cumbersome and unfair. For example, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) is comprised entirely of people drawn from the media or from those associated in some way with the media, and the organisation is funded by the press. Unsurprisingly, a non-celebrity complainant to the PCC rarely succeeds.

But this misses a larger point. No matter how formally honest any media regulating body was, it could no more serve the public generally than the legal profession can serve the general public in actions for libel where there is no legal aid.

The numbers of complaints actually considered formally by the PCC and the broadcasting authorities is minute, running into a few hundred a year — most complaints never get a full hearing or investigation. If the public began to use these bodies enthusiastically they would be overwhelmed.

The effect on the media

Faced with an immediate published response to any inaccuracy or abusive opinion and the possibility of having to submit themselves to public examination in a small claims court, journalists and broadcasters would cease to be cavalier about what they write.

The present relationship between the media and anyone they choose to criticise is analogous to someone who binds a man then punches him. It is not a contest but an act of  profound cowardice.

Can a Libertarian also be a Conservative?

Robert Henderson

If there was ever an essay title  which begged questions it is this one. What is a libertarian and what  a conservative? What is liberty? What is  Left, what is Right?  The problems of definition run so deep that they efficiently sabotage the question “Can a Libertarian also be a Conservative?”

Take libertarianism. The range of views which huddle under the libertarian banner range from the absolutists who want no government  at all  with everything decided by  voluntary agreement, to those who accept varying degrees of state intervention from a minimal state comprised of justice, police, defence and the tax raising powers needed to fund such a  state, to those like Hayek who accept that the state should provide a bare level of subsistence for those unable to work.

But the confusion does not stop there. Question any libertarian closely and  you will invariably find that they are inconsistent in their beliefs. For example, a libertarian will often claim to be  absolutely opposed to censorship  in the abstract but then start making exceptions for the difficult cases such as child pornography or racism.

Or take the central tenet of libertarian thought , the primacy of property, a concept which  for libertarians stretches beyond the common use meaning of the word to such things as the property a man has in his labour or his right to have a say in any government which taxes him. At the level of common usage – goods and services which a man owns – property  is underpinned for the libertarian  by a commitment to laissez faire economics , both within the domestic market and for international trade. Yet many, probably most,  libertarians  accept without question such gross interferences with a free market as anti-monopoly laws, limited liability and copyright.

Nonetheless there is a general thrust to libertarian thought; that   individuals should live lives largely untrammelled by government  and  society should be primarily arranged on the basis of agreement between  individuals. Institutions, culture  and  history are not a necessary part of a libertarian’s  life although they may contingently form part of it.

With conservatism the immediate problem of definition is the pedantic fact that a  a conservative is one who wishes to maintain the status quo. If a libertarian lived in a society which was already thoroughly libertarian, they would presumably wish to maintain the status quo and hence be  a conservative in that context.

But of course conservative has a particular political connotation and that is infinitely  more problematical. We have a party called Conservative in Britain but it is not  a party which would have been recognised as conservative two centuries ago. Semantic drift over the past two centuries

while libertarianism and the natural tendency of human beings to find ideologies imperfect  and to consequently wish to amend them.  However, although no objective certainty is possible, an examination of  the terms will reveal what they share and if there is any absolute bar to their mixing.

The Duke of  Wellington epitomises the mentality of the Ancien Regime.  He objected to the practice of   private soldiers cheering their officers because it came close to the expression of  an opinion. He believed that his private soldiers were the scum of the earth but admired them. He was resolutely opposed to any extension of the franchise – he described the first post-Great Reform Act House of Commons as containing “more bad hats than he had ever seen”.

In 1809 when the party we today call conservative or Tory  was known only as Tory, a thorough going conservative (if the term had existed as a political denomination)  would have been someone who supported the landed interest against the Whig commercial interest,  was for the Old Colonial System and against the idea of free trade, both in the domestic market and with the rest of the world,  looked with a jaundiced eye at  British foreign adventures  and  thought the British Constitution  a model of perfection,  which perfection nullified the need for any  reform of rotten boroughs or expansion of the franchise.

But if that was the feeling of the natural Tory in 1809 there were ideological rats gnawing away at the innards of the of the Party.  Pitt the Younger had been in sympathy with the idea of free trade but his plans were thwarted by the French Revolution.

Once lodged within some supposedly Tory hearts the idea lay there like  a dormant disease for the better part of 40 years, every now and then flaring up but never seriously challenging the existing Tory order.  Then came the Great Reform Act of 1832 and  a newly bourgeois House of Commons changed the balance of political power. With that came the opportunity of laissez faire.   Surprisingly the man who gave it practical effect was a supposedly Tory Prime Minister  Sir Robert Peel . He for the second time in his career  (1) broke a solemn promise to his party and began a series of reforms – of which the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 is the most famous – which gradually  emasculated the Old Colonial System until it was finally died at the  beginning of the 1860s.

The effect of Peel’s embracing  of laissez faire policies was to cause a split in the Tory Party which kept them out of power for more than twenty years.  During that time the Whigs, who were in the process of evolving into the Liberals,  avidly embraced the policies of  laissez faire and free trade. (2). Just as Old Labour transmogrified into NuLabour and the Conservatives into NuTory  during long spells in the political wilderness  through a desperation for office so did the Tories in the mid-nineteenth century.  The  party split after 1846  but  the party which was left and which developed over the next 25 years saw  laissez faire  firmly ensconced within it without becoming utterly dominant. It was a party divided between  Tories and Conservatives.

Because it has been melded by practical politics and the Conservatism traditionally sees institutions, culture  and  history  as vitally important because they are the priceless artefacts of the organic development of society, the repositories of the collective wisdom of  the evolution of society.

At the same time the party which was now called Liberal was split between  Whigs and the new liberals

But just as libertarianism and conservatism has mutated over time and are both broad ideological churches today , so have other political ideologies. Socialism can run from meaning any state intervention beyond the minimal state –  socialist and  commie are  common epithets directed at Obama in his attempt to provide universal healthcare in the USA – to Marxist-Leninism.

There is a profound practical difference  between the two ideologies. Conservatism has been put to the test of being encased within serious political parties which have formed governments while the libertarian cause has  been more of an aspiration than an organised  political movement. Indeed, there is an inherent difficulty in the idea of  libertarianism being enshrined within a party because. a party implies not only a set menu of policies but the need for enforced discipline on party members. Even more problematic is the idea of a libertarian government because that would mean libertarians forcing their will on those who were not libertarian, a direct contradiction of the idea of voluntary association which lies at the heart of libertarianism.

The worm at the heart of the concept of  liberty is the division between negative and positive freedom. Libertarians eagerly embrace negative freedom but thrust positive freedom firmly away, because negative freedom is simply the freedom to do whatever is not forbidden, while positive freedom requires the intervention of state authority to impose  measures such as a re-distribution of wealth or the  favouring of the poor when it comes to the provision of state-funded education. Indeed, many libertarians would deny that positive freedom is a  semantic fraud akin to “positive discrimination” .

The  consequence of  libertarians denying the need

Negative and positive freedom are not of course concepts which are peculiar to libertarians. Conservatives, even of the “old order” were great supporters of negative freedom. The last thing they wanted was an intrusive state for it interfered with their  social and political power. Nor did the entrepreneurs of the Industrial Revolution, who were all for the state allowing them to run their mines and factories as they  chose without such encumbrances as the Factory Acts.

The roots of libertarianism lie in the natural bias of  human beings to follow their own will.  But because Man is the social animal par excellence that will has to be filtered through the will of others. This necessitates, for any viable society, a degree of general concord. That is turn raises problems of  how such concord is reached. In simple tribal societies agreement is reached partly by  accumulated custom, partly by the natural formation of hierarchies and partly by general discussion and agreement.  These three things apply  to more sophisticated and larger societies but other forces come into play in such societies: the need for delegated authority and representation and the magnification of  the power of individuals through their control of ever greater resources  whether privately held or state acquired. This invariably restricts the freedom of the individual. It is consequently pointless for the libertarian to produce a blueprint for a libertarian society which is intended to fit any society regardless of its size and sophistication.

In principle, the libertarian ideal of a society based on individual agreement can be most closely approached at the level of the small tribal society, because it is only at that level that it is practical to have a society which can be run entirely on the basis of personal contact.  The fact that tribal societies are in practice far from the libertarian ideal is another matter, although  in some at least the reality is  probably closer to the libertarian ideal of individual determination and agreement than is any more sophisticated society because  circumstances force all the members to interact with one another.  What matters  is the  practicality of libertarianism within the society.

Once the

There is of course a great deal of difference between  theoretical political  positions and their practical realisation. A naturally authoritarian government  with very limited resources  may impinge far less on  the lives of those it governs than a government which has avowed libertarian intentions but a  much larger treasury, An Englishman living in the first half of the nineteenth century would have had his life little brushed against by the state provided he did not fall into criminal ways or need great enough to drive him to the Poorhouse. What could have impinged upon his freedom were poverty, lack of education,   the still surviving social dominance of landowners, the virtually unrestrained power of employers, especially in industry, and the general restrictions of  the class structure.

There is a lesson for libertarians there. Freedom is not simply  the absence of state control. It is also freedom from  the  tyranny of  those who are  powerful without the support of the state,   whether that be as a group or an individual,  That raises the problem of how libertarians are to create a society which minimises  both state intervention and non-state social control.  Clearly both cannot be realised so that there has to be a trade off between the two. If this is not done, all  the realisation of libertarian non-statist aspirations will achieve is the rapid creation of a plutocracy, a form of society which is antithetical to libertarian ends because it would reinforce and  enlarge the natural tendency within societies to

The honest answer to the question posed by the competition’s essay title is simple:  it cannot be meaningfully answered because there is no such thing as a perfect adherent to libertarian or conservative ideology  or an objectively certain  definition of Libertarian or Conservative. The same applies to any  other political ideology.  That being so it makes no sense to argue whether a libertarian can also be a Conservative even if a conservative is defined as  it has been  defined politically for the past few centuries.

What can be said is that most people who sail under the Conservative flag today  share much with libertarians, at least in their theoretical policy positions. They favour  a minimum of state interference in most aspects of  national life, the main areas of policy where this does not apply being policing and penal policy. Such people  are supporters of laissez faire economics,  although they often oppose completely free movement of labour.  They are for low tax.  They  support the idea of the family, something which a libertarian should support because the family is a bulwark against the state. They favour strong defence, something acceptable at least to libertarians who are not absolutists.  They support private healthcare and  private schools and ideally would wish universities to be independent of government.

A  card-carrying Libertarian could not be a card carrying political Conservative in any of the words’ historical or present senses. What he can be today is someone who embraces those aspects of  modern political conservatism  which accord with or at the least come nearest to meeting libertarian desires.  In theory at least, there are plenty of those.

But there is more hope for most libertarians than merely making do with aspects of conservatism,  for as pointed out above  few who call themselves libertarians are thorough going believers. They, like every other person, can  choose political ideas which are deemed to be politically incompatible  according to a particular creed or the  traditional  Left-Right political classifications.

Political ideas at bottom are simply conveniences  which human beings accept or reject insofar as they find them useful and congenial. Logical necessity extrapolated from an ideology counts for nothing.  For example, the more extreme believers in laissez faire economics build a theoretical construct which insists that free trade must logically include free movement of labour. The logical necessity exists only within their man made and self-conscious ideology, and is irrelevant  to real life  because it is self-evidently possible to operate a political policy of free trade in goods and services while preventing mass immigration.

There is no shame in  ideological eclecticism, merely an acknowledgment of  the impracticality or impracticality of political ideas and a recognition that  all ideologies are inadequate descriptions of reality and contain contradictions.  Political ends should be aspirations  towards the ideal.

For only liberty, only a free market, can organize and maintain an industrial system, and the more that population expands and explodes, the more necessary is the unfettered working of such an industrial economy. Laissez-faire and the free market become more and more evidently necessary as an industrial system develops; radical deviations cause breakdowns and economic crises. This crisis of statism becomes particularly dramatic and acute in a fully socialist society; and hence the inevitable breakdown of statism has first become strikingly apparent in the countries of the socialist (i.e., Communist) camp. For socialism confronts its inner contradiction most starkly. Desperately, it tries to fulfill its proclaimed goals of industrial growth, higher standards of living for the masses, and eventual withering away of the State, and is increasingly unable to do so with its collectivist means. Hence the inevitable breakdown of socialism.   Murray N. Rothbard

Cicero quotes Cato as saying that the Roman constitution was superior to that of other states because it “was based upon the genius, not of one man, but of many: it was founded, not in one generation, but in a long period of several centuries and many ages of men. For, said he, there never has lived a man possessed of so great a genius that nothing could escape him, nor could the combined powers of all men living at one time possibly make all the necessary provisions for the future without the aid of actual experience

and the test of time.” Chapter Four, Freedom, Reason, and Tradition; The

Constitution of Liberty ISBN 0-226-32084-7, University of Chicago Press | 1960 | Friedrich A. Hayek

There are many things specifically in laws and governments,” wrote Chief Justice Hale in the seventeenth century in a critique of Hobbes, “that mediately, remotely and consequentially are reasonable to be approved, though the reason of the party does not presently or immediately and distinctly see its reasonableness…Long experience makes more discoveries touching conveniences or inconveniences of laws than is possible for the wisest council of men at first to foresee. And that those amendments and supplements that through the various experiences of wise and knowing men have been applied to any law must needs be better suited to the convenience of laws, than the best invention of the most pregnant wits not aided by such a series and tract of experience…This add to the  difficulty of the present fathoming of the reason of laws, which, though it commonly be called the mistress of fools, yet certainly it is the wisest expedient among mankind, and discovers those defects and supplies which no wit of man could either at once foresee or aptly remedy…It is not necessary that the reasons of the institution should be evident unto us. It is sufficient that they are instituted laws that give a certainty to us, and it is reasonable to observe them though the particular reason of the institution appear not.”

A libertarian party is wrong in principle.

Political parties can exist under two general conditions: they can be based on a well-defined ideology or be coalitions without any rigid ideology, which at best are driven by an unfocused desire to “improve things” and at worst are primarily vehicles for the careerism of politicians. All modern British Parliamentary parties fall into the latter category, which might be best described as parties of vague expediency.

Libertarians are excluded from the ideological category not because they lack ideology  but because libertarianism it is not a neat, single set of ideas. It is not even, as Marxism or Christianity are, a system of thought which has started from a central point of authority and then worked itself into various forms. Rather, it is a multitude of  different and frequently contradictory ideas which arise from the simple human aspiration to take responsibility for your own life whilst living as free as possible from the suffocating attentions of both the state and overweening private authority . In all its forms libertarianism is the pursuit of the ideal of freedom not the mechanistic working towards exact ends such as is found in Marxism.

Because freedom is essentially subjective – one libertarian’s negative freedom may be another libertarian’s positive unfreedom and vice versa. – and because the means by which even a defined and agreed free end may be realised is uncertain, the variety of movements which fall within the libertarian fold is legion. To take only the major divisions, there are the  rights theorists (who eschew force) and consequentialitists (who permit it), the Right and Left Libertarians who dispute over property, minarchists (minimalist state) and anarchocapitalists (no state), those who call themselves libertarians and those whom others call libertarians but who repudiate the term themselves, most notably Objectivists.

Any ideological libertarian party would be faced with two choices: either produce a mish mash of ideas which wholly satisfied few if any libertarians or  allow itself to be captured by ideologues who would tolerate only their form of libertarianism, which behaviour would be the antithesis of libertarian ideals.

The reason why libertarians cannot go down the road of vague expediency is simple: libertarianism is the pursuit of an idea, the ideal of freedom. A party which did not have that ideal at its heart, which did not frame its policies with the intent of realising that ideal, would by definition not be a libertarian party.

There is also the nature of those who are attracted to libertarianism . As a philosophy (in all of its strains) it will tend to attract those of independent character, people who are naturally unwilling to compromise their beliefs and will tend more than the
ordinary run of humanity to want their own way even in non-ideological matters such as party organisation. . The propensity for fission within a libertarian party would be great and this trait, together with the diverse nature of libertarian ideas, make it probable going on certain that if one libertarian party was formed others would arise to compete with it.

Still not convinced? Very well, let us suppose that a libertarian party was formed. On what policies would the party run for office? Well, a “pure” libertarian party could seek power with the intention of disbanding the state entirely. A middle-of-the-road  libertarian party would remove from the state responsibility for health, the provision of benefit for disability and employment, education, the roads and railways, power generation. All that would remain is a minimalist state providing police, a justice system, armed forces and possibly a skeleton diplomatic representation. A moderate libertarian party would accept the minimalist state and in addition attend to basic infrastructure such as roads and take the Hayek line on subsistence support, viz.: “We shall again take for granted the availability of a system of public relief which provides a minimum for all instances of proved need, so that no member of the community need be in want of food or shelter” (The Constitution of Liberty Routledge pp 300-301).

The implications of having no state or even a minimalist one would seem to most Britons to be at best dangerously naïve and at worst a philosophy designed to promote the interests of haves. (A thorough-going libertarian party would be asking the British electorate to go into the unknown because no such party has ever obtained a seat in the Commons let alone formed a government). It is unlikely any party putting forward no state or a minimalist state would be treated as anything other than political eccentrics.

Even what I have defined as a moderate libertarian party would tend to scare the electoral horses. The public would be asking what would happen to the poor or the unfortunate? Who would pick up the social pieces in an emergency? What would happen if parents cannot afford to pay for their child’s education? Doubtless when pressed during an election representatives of a moderate libertarian party would say, because no electorate would begin to listen to them otherwise, “we would not be so extreme, we would take care to ensure that a bare minimum of welfare was available to stop people starving or dying from cold, we would not allow the infrastructure of the country to be left at the mercy of market forces, we would ensure every child was educated“.

The problem with such responses from libertarians is that they sell the pass on the minimalist state. Instead, they have become part of the mainstream political debate. The only question left for them to dispute is how much should be spent on welfare, education and so on. The argument that there should be nothing spent by the state, that it should all be left to private charity, has gone.

Democracy presents an insoluble problem for libertarians because most people are not wholehearted libertarians. In fact, most people are anything but libertarian, hence the depressingly frequent polls which show large majorities in favour of identity cards and CCTV, the banning of personal weapons, restrictions on free expression and  ever more draconian restrictions on drugs. But the reluctance to embrace libertarian ideas goes far wider than those iconic libertarian issues. . Most people in Britain enthusiastically approve of the Welfare State; and it is a fair bet that most would approve of protectionism and closed borders. if they were ever asked to vote in a referendum on such matters because it is a natural human instinct to protect one’s own territory and “tribe”.

There is also the practical difficulty of a new party succeeding within the British political system. In the three centuries or so in which parties have existed in the modern sense only one new party has managed to form a government, the Labour Party. Moreover, they managed it in the highly unusual circumstances of the aftermath of a World War in which members of their Party had been co-opted into Government and thus gained a public profile. It is noteworthy that no new political grouping since the extension of the Franchise to universal manhood suffrage in 1918 has succeeded in gaining permanent representation in the Commons. It is most

In opposition the position of the party would be simple: it could act as a platform for disseminating libertarian ideas: in power it would have to deal with the ugly realities of making decisions. It would have to force those who are not libertarians to live in a libertarian world., thus negating the idea of libertarianism being built on voluntary association. The fact that governments of a different colour force libertarians to live in ways they do not wish to live is neither here nor there, for that is something done to libertarians by those who are not libertarians. Libertarians cannot respond by treating  non-libertarians in a non-libertarian manner for that would negate their libertarian ideals.

Does this mean that libertarians should eschew political action? Not a bit of it. They should make every effort to promote libertarian ideals through other parties, especially the existing mainstream parties which have a chance of power. They should join such parties and argue from within and lobby individually and as groups. They should try to obtain jobs in the mainstream media. They should lobby the mainstream media. They should In short, they should attempt to do what the liberal internationalist left has done over the past sixty years, infiltrate the positions of power and influence.

Being a libertarian should be about ends not ideology because what the libertarian wishes to achieve can be reached by more than once means. Any person who imagines there is a set of objectively necessary ideas to be a libertarian is by definition not a libertarian because they wish to reduce the world to their black and white version and exclude all other voices. The sort of self-described libertarian who believes such a thing is the type of person who can be heard wondering to themselves “what is the correct libertarian position on this?” sadly oblivious to the fact that they echo the mentality of the Marxist.

Even amongst those who describe themselves as libertarians there are few  who subscribe to the “pure” libertarian menu. Most recognise that a minimalist state is necessary, that society cannot be left entirely to voluntary association and agreement. Many go further than the absolute minimalist state and recognise that some state intervention beyond the basics of defence, justice, policing, public health and sanitation and foreign policy is necessary for the maintenance of a stable society.

Most libertarians have something in common with the mass of humanity: they are libertarian on some issues and not others. Let me take myself as an example. I am pure  libertarian on issues such free expression (no censorship at all because it is an absolute: you either have it or you do not), drugs (legalise them all), the ownership and carrying of weapons (you should be able to buy a gun as easily as a pound of carrots) and self-defence (you should be able to use whatever force you choose if attacked), public surveillance by the state or others (an outrage), petty state interference with private life (an absolute no, no).

On other issues such as immigration and free trade I take a non-libertarian position because I believe the ultimate consequences of these  policies is to undermine the ends which libertarians seek because they create circumstances of pernicious competition, both ethnic and a simple scramble for scarce resources. The more fractious a society is the less libertarian it will be because when a society becomes more disordered those with power seek ever more authoritarian means to control the disorder. Libertarians may wish this was not so but it is a contingent fact that it always happens. .

These views provoke a considerable variety of responses from those who call themselves libertarians. Nor is the response of any individual libertarian I have ever encountered consistently libertarian. . One person may disapprove of drug legalisation while being utterly opposed to surveillance; another be in favour of free trade but against open border immigration. Interestingly, the most general resistance I have encountered is on the issues of freely available drugs and weapons, support for which one might have imagined would be naturally close to all libertarian hearts. .

The fact that few libertarians do follow a wholeheartedly libertarian ideological line means that most will not find it emotionally impossibly to engage with other parties. They will have even less difficulty with single issue movements. The individual libertarian will be able to pursue his or her particular libertarian passions within such contexts.

Should libertarians be downhearted at the idea that there should be no libertarian party or any likelihood of a full-blooded libertarian programme being brought to reality? Most certainly not, in fact, they should rejoice. Libertarians should never wish for a perfect libertarian society because one could only exist if all other competing forms of political thought and action were suppressed by authoritarian means, for it is certain that never would there be circumstances where most let alone all would subscribe to the full gamut of libertarian ends. That inescapable authoritarianism would undermine the principle at the heart of libertarianism: voluntary association. All that would exist would be a perfect libertarian society in form not content and even the form would be ephemeral for all tyrannies fall sooner rather than later.


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