What Libertarians can learn from Antonio Gramsci and Why they Should Join the Tories.

I describe myself as a Libertarian, mainly because the traditional labels of ‘left’ and ‘right’ don’t fully fit. As P.J. O’Rourke remarked “Turn right at Economics, Take a left at sex and drugs, straight ahead to paradise“*. The right are largely economically liberal, but socially authoritarian, and the left, the opposite. And this varies by time and place, influenced by history. Swedish neo-nazis for example are strongly in favour of that kingdom’s generous welfare state. But I don’t want to ‘smash the state’. Shrink it, gradually, for sure. But I don’t want a revolution. Nor do I see much fundamentally wrong with representative democracy.

Libertarians too often have an intellectual jump-off point at their state-free utopia. This isn’t libertarianism, but anarchism, but these anarcho-capitalists hurl abuse at any libertarian whose ideas include working with existing institutions: not “real” libertarianism. There’s no coherent plan to get from a state which takes 50% of GDP and thinks it reasonable to control the font on cigarette packets, or the contents of Children’s lunch-boxes, to one where the state keeps to its reasonable functions. Thus libertarianism is a philosophy for spotty herberts, ranting in pubs, mainly to each other. And the An-caps are to blame.

Unless your intellectual jump-off point is our society and government, complete with problems, here and now, you will be ignored. This is why Labour was out of power for nearly two decades until they abandoned their marxist fantasy. The Tories fell into the trap of imagining an Elysium somewhere around 1953, which saw them out of power while Gordon Brown laid waste the economy. The party that wins power is the one with a clear solution to the problems of the country now, and an optimistic vision for the future sufficient to encourage people to vote.

The problems faced by the UK government are a deficit requiring spending cuts, and preventing tax-cuts. A population which appears to be obsessed by immigration (especially in the kind of places where there is little). This means the solutions are extraordinarily unpopular, as the left hate spending cuts, as the right thinks not giving tax-cuts is tantamount to socialism. Social liberalism, gay marriage for example seems to have brought out the right-authoritarians out in full-scale culture war. Immigrants are the first casualty, as they seek their fantasy ’50s Britain.

Despite extraordinarily difficult political headwinds, the coalition’s doing a good job. Taxes have even been cut, especially on the low-paid. In-work benefits are about the same or more generous, increasing the returns to work, and out of work benefits have been frozen or squeezed. This tax-cut, and benefit rise has been largely responsible for the missed deficit targets. But the effect has been profound. Added to the incentive effects, supply-side reforms, mainly making it easier to fire, and less costly to employ, have seen something of a jobs miracle. Despite a weak economy, millions have found work, and the coalition has mostly achieved this by increasing incentives to the out of work, and by reducing obstacles to jobs being provided. Even the jobs miracle is grotesquely unpopular. Ranty rigties and “libertarians” bemoan the increased in-work benefits bill. The left are having a right old froth about “zero-hours” contracts or the rise in self-under-employment.

But everywhere you look, the coalition’s been shrinking the state’s influence over economic life, and seen a flourishing of private sector economic activity. State headcount, the bean-counters and box-tickers of Gordon Brown’s expensive client state, has been pared back to pre-1997 levels. The debate about the deficit has been comprehensively won – even Labour has abandoned its punk-keynsianism in rhetoric at least.

Ranty twitter libertarians often ask how I can stomach being a Conservative. It’s simple. They do a good job in day-to-day government, and they do shrink the state overall. It is true Conservatives are not libertarians. The clue is in the name. But they are fellow-travellers, at least as far as they want to go, and especially so in matters economic. The Cameroons are also reasonably socially liberal. They do want to get the state out of the bedroom, and pursue a more reasonable set of drug laws. The Tory party has lost its ranty, EU-obsessed authoritarians to UKIP, who, one suspects, mostly hate the EU because it prevents bringing back hanging. And the Tory party looks a whole lot better without them.

Libertarians should offer a vision of a freer, richer, stronger UK, starting with the rich, free and strong UK we have now. We should do so by infiltrating the existing parties and making arguments for policies that work mainly by freeing people from state dependency and control. Citizens’ Basic Income, protections to civil liberties, freedom of expression and association. If there were more libertarians making the arguments rather than stomping off in great huffs like David Davis, or Douglas Carswell, we might get somewhere.

But Libertarians are too selfish, immature and self-centred to compromise. We do have the answers. Libertarianism is right, good and helpful to people. But we are absolutely rubbish at making the arguments to those who matter because we couch the arguments in such absolutist terms. Libertarians need to get their shoulders to the wheel of debate, instead of standing at the sidelines shouting incoherent abuse to people trying to come up with solutions to problems faced by people in the here and now. Otherwise we leave policy-making in the here and now to Gramscian marxists who’ve already completed their long-march through the institutions.

Libertarians should join the Conservative party. Not because the Conservative party fully agrees with us, but because it should.

*if anyone can find the source for, or correct me on this quote, I’d be grateful.

9 replies
  1. Simon Jester
    Simon Jester says:

    Libertarians should join the Conservatives so that they can be "purged" the first time they say something you disagree with?

  2. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    The only people I want purged are the ranty cunts, who've already left or are thinking of leaving for UKIP. Good riddance. It's not about agreement or disagreement. It's about tearing the party apart for a two decades over a single issue comprising 2% of public spending. I welcome a balance of opinions. The ranty UKIP cunts don't, and should go where their insanity is valued.

  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Think your second paragraph is entirely wrong. Real Libertarians are minarchists / anarchists (largely a function of the position usually on defence).

    What you're describing are the Classic Liberals, which were once identified as the Whigs within the Conservatives and who largely kept on top of the other wing within the Conservatives (the Tories).

    Thus the Libertarians (real ones), whilst on the fringes, were able to be accommodated in the Conservative party.

    However, the Tory element has now been firmly in control, which has naturally seen the Libertarians the first to leave and largely and Ukip are the natural protest (other than abstention) destination.

    The real exodus has been more recent as the Classic Liberals (Whigs) have had enough. They are moving to Ukip in numbers as they don't believe the Conservatives can be brought back to a Classic Liberal position and / or believe that Ukip better represents them.

    Given the above and replacing 'Libertarians' with 'Classic Liberals', your argument is then good. The Conservatives should naturally be the home for Classic Liberals.

    Alas, it is not. And many Classic Liberals, such as Carswell, have left believing that change will not happen. Others, such as Hannan, remain believing it can be affected.

    The next choice of leader will strongly determine whether the Whigs will likely leave for good – especially if there is a viable alternative.


  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Comment box is very small. Edit, 4th para:

    However, the Tory element has now been firmly in control, which has naturally seen the Libertarians the first to leave and Ukip are the natural protest (other than abstention) destination

  5. zippgun
    zippgun says:

    Oh, come off it, they're a lost cause.

    The Tories may be economic "liberals", but as far as individual freedom from the state goes they're as bad, possibly even worse, than Liebore.

    – No repeal or reform of Labour's thought and speech crimes.

    – Continuing the hysteria/lies based war on smokers – no repeal or reform of the ban, continuing Labour's plain pack policy.

    – Tories support the EU/ NICE restrictionist war on e-cigs.

    – Extension of Labour's unique and ridiculous adult "extreme porn" law, criminalizing consensual adult images to include fictional "rape" images.

    – Sinister internet filters made compulsory to censor content.

    – May, bit by bit, implements Labour's snooper's charter to spy on everyone on line.

    – New press censorship body.

    – May implements policy to imprison parents for years over criticizing their children; she also plans years of prison over subjective "emotional abuse" by adults of their wives/husbands/ partners.

    These alleged Tories are no different from Labour, just more vicious with the poor and sick.

    This is a crucial reason so many of us say to hell with these supposed Tories and now support a properly libertarian party.

  6. Malcolm Bracken
    Malcolm Bracken says:

    Zippgun there is a huge difference between the coalition and Labour, which tried to introduce 90-day detention without trial, solely so they could paint Tories (who opposed it) as "soft on Terror". I don't claim the Tories ARE libertarian, just that they could be if the Libertarians joined the Tories en-masse.

  7. zippgun
    zippgun says:

    Jackart –

    Really, I can see little difference between them. I just see "consensus" among Tory and Labour. Cameron and Clegg arrived with a big pledge of a "great repeal" of bad laws – naturally it was all hot air, never happened. Instead we've just had more laws of the Straw/Blunkett stamp interfering in private life and usurping civil liberties, including Labour favourites like secret courts, mass snooping and new "sex" crimes. The only thing stopped was the ID card scheme, which Labour had been back peddling on anyway.

    To say these "Tories" have disappointed me in office is an understatement. So much for Cameron's talk of curbing such state interference before his election.

    One of the few libertarians in the Tory party, Carswell, got out and joined Ukip. David Davis, of the handful who actually have some libertarian beliefs, is a marginalized figure in the party, while his appalling big statist successor, May, positively salivates as the pressure groups and civil service present her with totalitarian style policies to put into legislation. May, at the Tory conference, told of her plans to carry out the most sinister assault on free speech ever seen in the modern era, plans to bar people who have broken no law from speaking in public or posting on the internet if their words might, in a subjective opinion of the authorities, "undermine democracy", encourage a significant level of discontent etc. I doubt even Straw and Blunkett would have endorsed such breathtaking totalitarianism – yet Cameron keeps this dangerous, odious and inept woman in place year after year. Mainstream parliamentary Tories tend to resemble New Labour clones on the issue of freedom.

    We must face it that common purpose and the screechy pressure groups/phony charities etc control the Establishment parties and the agenda – it will be a long haul indeed for libertarian entryism (paralleling the Marxist kind, which occurred in our education system, civil service etc and created New Labour from the ashes of the old one) to turn any of these into protectors of our liberties – instead of a bunch of scoundrels itching to destroy them.

    I no longer care a jot if Ukip voting in 2015 let's Labour in by the back door. On the libertarian issues I care about these Tories are just blue Labour. Miliband will not be able to spend like a drunken sailor as many of his naive supporters think, his economic policies will probably be little different to Osborne in practice. On asylum, immigration, and the EU – no matter what Cameron says – the reality shows there's really not a fag paper between this lot and Labour. And Cameron and co will be just like Miliband – do everything to keep us in the EU and transfer more and more sovereign national powers to it – just as Dave did a couple of weeks ago. Five years of Minibrain will hopefully be enough to break the hold of the "triad" over those who still currently think replacing TweedleDee with TweedleDum every few years will improve things, somehow stop the destruction of our nation.

  8. zippgun
    zippgun says:

    Jackart –

    Sorry for the delay in responding.

    In writing "you see what you want to see" are you saying I'm wrong – the New Labour style measures, some of which I listed, are a figment of my imagination? I would be very happy indeed if this was the case, but unfortunately, it isn't – they have all either been implemented or are to be passed into legislation. And I write as someone who breathed a sigh of relief when dreadful New Labour was removed from office in 2010. I never expected a Tory government – having lived through many – would be as totalitarian/authoritarian over issues of the citizen's freedoms as New Labour had been. After all, hadn't Cameron made noises assuring us they wouldn't be? Hadn't they even voted occasionally against such measures? I should be past giving any credence to a "triad" politician's pledges about what they will and won't do when they get power! I've watched for 4 years as they did nothing to remove or even reform Labour's poisonous 13 year legacy of thought crime/speech crime/victimless crimes/ the surveillance state/punishment freakery; instead they've been busily building on that legacy.

    Additional to May's terrible proposed "speech ASBOS" mentioned earlier, we already have her new public space "ASBOS" – PSPOs – giving massive new powers to police and local authorities, allowing them to stop members of the public doing virtually anything they want to in "public places".

    Each of the new measures represent this Tory led government increasing state surveillance of our private lives, the removal of more of our liberties by an intrusive bully state, and in some cases the creation of new serious crimes where no crime existed before, where such matters were once felt to be no business of the state (possessing things privately, non violent family rows, disciplining children non violently, freedom of speech). This bunch, like Labour, are set on creating more and more criminals out of people who weren't criminals before, people who aren't considered criminals in nations which are careful about/have proper guarantees of the rights of the citizen.

    As far as mass surveillance, invading our privacy, criminalizing more and more people, using extra judicial measures to coerce the citizen, we see Tory and Labour essentially in agreement, with the Lib Dems largely reduced to the occasional bleat of impotent protest over some of it.

    I'm not an extreme libertarian, or even particularly "liberal", but I believe in strong limits to state power over the individual, and any state interference having been justified by well established evidence – not, as so often now, mainly due to megalomaniac police leaders demanding more and more power over us, a constant pandering to screeching minority pressure groups, and ambitious, posturing, careerist- though often inept ministers (like May) wanting to appear in headlines by "doing something"- all leading to the creation of more and more badly thought out and bossy new legislation. This should be a Tory position to – but these are ersatz "Tories", not the genuine article – statist, controlling social engineers – very little different to New Labour.

    Oh well – at my age it's almost flattering to be called childish!


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