More on Sean Gabb speech to Conservative-Future: trenchant comment

David Davis

I take the liberty of using this comment (freely available on the thread for this post) as a new post:-

And here’s me been trying to impose a commenting moratorium on myself. Oh well, here I go again.

Sean’s prescription for what to do when power is gained, while perhaps or perhaps not perfect in the detail, is a good one, and is the kind of thought experiment which may bring one temporary cheer. However it does not (nor, one must absolutely acknowledge attempt to) answer the question of how such a position may be gained. As such it is much like discussing which stars to visit in a starship, while ignoring the hard problem, which is how to build a warp drive.

The problem is that by not discussing in the same breath the gaining of that position, we overlook the fundamentally recursive nature of the discussion. If a government of libertarians, or of “the right” (I dispute that label, but let us let it pass for now) or of “real conservatives” (I dispute that even more as I said before) has gained office in our thought experiment, then the war is already won. That which should be done by such government then becomes a trifle, as it will have the authority to do whatever it wishes.

Unless it has gained power by subterfuge, rather than gained office by honest campaigning, this imaginary government has already told the populace that it will slash government to ribbons, immediately leave the EU, abolish the BBC, hound the enemy out of local government, strangle all the quangos and so on. It can only thus gain office if it has the support of the majority of those citizens who care. To achieve that, it must have gained a cultural hegemony and, more significantly a moral hegemony.

It will have become moral to support small government and immoral to support big government. It will have become moral to support tax cuts, to despise the enemy class, and so on.

To achieve the initial conditions for such a libertian cultural revolution, the public morality must have already become libertarian, rather than the current secular evangelical statism.

This is the Hard Problem, and it would seem at this juncture to be entirely intractable, since altering the moral hegemony requires cultural hegemony, while the cultural hegemony is driven by the moral hegemony.

What is oft mistakenly believed is that the statists/Left/whatever invaded the institutions- government, education etc, from outside. This is not true. There were always socialists inside the elite; indeed it is an elite project and always was. We, on the other hand, have no insiders; and the defenders against whom we wish to move are entirely alert to the possibility of any counterhegemonic entryism and are thus able to nullify it before it gains purchase. The Hard Problem is thus profoundly hard. 


  1. Ian, we’d like to invite you to be a contributor, if you want to, that is. You write well: and we need more libertarian writers who are angry about stuff…

  2. What I have said so far cannot be called a complete package of solutions. It is an invitation to debate our problems in a radical way and from a non-leftist perspective. Sadly, few thought it that when I spoke to the Youn Conservatives last week.

  3. Sean:

    I’m by no means clear where “left” is within your libertarian patterns. Kevin Carson is a self-described Left-Libertarian.

    “Left” nore generally just means being in favour of reform, progress, change, rights and so forth.

    Ronald Reagan used to say:

    “Neither Left or Right; but “Forward” or “Back.”

    In Britain, most people have never been so free.

    Have you forgotten gibbets, tortures, hanging, the hideous incarceration without trial for life of 250,000 “mental” people, gays being imprisoned, electroshock, lobotomies, official censorship of _everything_, conscription, utterly corrupt police prosecutions (now stopped by the CPS), flogging in the Armed forces and schools, hideous mass poverty, no Internet, an overweening aristocracy, limits on voting, European wars, gross bigotry, a rigid class system, life expectancy of less than 40 years, no clean water or adequate sewage disposal, rationing, peoples’ bodies being cannibalized, D-Notices everywhere, massive and widespread corruption hidden, and Christ knows what else…

    Free Golden Age??? WHEN???



    PS: Next, go check out “golf ball cannon” on Youtube. And “ping pall cannon.” And “Bowling ball cannon.” And…

    PPS: Sure, it’s no bed of roses, and numerous aspects _are_ getting worse. But for Chrissake count your blessings sometimes. We paid a high price to win them.

  4. I think you are wrong to assume that a libertarian or “real conservative” or whatever government could only come about after we have achieved cultural hegemony. In a crisis of confidence, when all of the consensus parties are discredited, anybody who offers a plausible alternative has got a chance of getting in on very ephemeral support.

    Bad as things are we are not in such a crisis yet. Perhaps, if the conservative party doesn’t get to grips with the economic problems it will inherit, we could reach such a crisis of confidence in the established parties.

    Another possible scenario for a libertarian government is the Yeltsin scenario. A charismatic politician comes to power in a crisis; He knows that neither he nor his party have any of the answers, so he hires advisers who do.

    I guess the common theme of both scenarios is the big state model being tested to the point of destruction, and people realise that something has to be done. They don’t have to be deeply convinced of the alternative, merely convinced that an alternative is necessary.

  5. Dear Otto – Thanks for that. I agree – all the more now you’ve clarified my rather vague thoughts on the matter!

    Dear Tony – Yes, you are right. Things are better now for most people than in the past. However, we are in real danger of losing these things. I might also add that you are including nice things within your definition of liberty that are only products of liberty or enhancers of liberty.

  6. Otto:

    You say:

    “Another possible scenario for a libertarian government is the Yeltsin scenario. A charismatic politician comes to power in a crisis; He knows that neither he nor his party have any of the answers, so he hires advisers who do.”

    Except that Yeltsin was a hard-line authoritarian who wanted Crony-Capitalism; and he accordingly had Chubais, Sachs and the Harvard economists et. al. put it into place with catastrophic results for Russia and Russians, reducing their lifespan to less than it was even in Stalin’s time.

    And you really think that they “knew what they were doing”??? When they were putting into practice the precepts of Neo-Classical economics, which has been shown to be a pseudo-science.

    The only thing that pseudo-scientists can ever know is (a) that they’re pseudo-scientists, following a pseudo-science; and (b) that they might as well use astrology (another pseudo-science).


  7. Tony,

    I am not in any way endorsing Yeltsin, his advisors or associates. I was merely making the point that in a certain type of crisis a charismatic politician can flip the direction of a polity.

    After all, if my memory serves me correctly, after the failed coup did Yeltsin not pretty much announce that the USSR was over, and tell Gorbachev so in the Russian Duma?

    I chose to call it the Yeltsin scenario, as most successful charismatic politicians have flipped things for the much worse. Yeltsin didn’t seem to have managed that.

    The other significant aspect was that Yeltsin was a very senior member of the nomenklatura. A point that was relevant to the scenario I was suggesting.

  8. Otto:

    Eduard Schevardnadze told Gorbachev before he came to power, that Russia could never be a “normal” country while it had the Soviet Empire.

    The authoritarians broke Gorbachev’s power in their failed attempt to topple him, thus allowing Yeltsin (a Russian Nationalist) ro seize power, having “rescued” Gorbachev.

    All of them held high positions in the nomenklatura. Any competent, halfway intelligent person was recruited, if at all possible. As usual, there were more liberal (reformist) factions and conservative (more authoritarian) factions. By prematurely breaking up the USSR and the Communist Party, as dangers to Russian nationalism, Yeltsin showed himself to be an authoritarian; most of the incremental reformers were Nomenklatura too. Activist people go where the action is (as CRT did with Thatcherism, Reaganism etc.). An appalling — fatal — mistake.


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