Mises 2018: Introductory Remarks

Welcome, fellow extremists!
Chairman’s Address to inaugural Mises UK Conference,
at the Charing Cross Hotel
27th January 2018 

Extremism Disruption Orders

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said of the Government’s planned ‘Extremism Disruption Orders’, that they will go “beyond terrorism” and “eliminate extremism in all its forms.” The Government has said that these Extremism Disruption Orders will be introduced to tackle “harmful activities” of “extremist individuals” who “spread hate” but do not “break laws.”

Accordingly, the criteria for being gagged by one of these planned Extremism Disruption Orders is rather vague. Those who do not believe in “British values”, as defined, of course, by the British Government, are extremists. Presumably, central to British values will be, if and when ever defined, a belief in both the spirit and the minutiae of the Equality Act of 2010, and of course in democracy, humanitarian intervention, and apple pie. In other words, all those whose morality differs significantly from that of the BBC or The Guardian could quite conceivably be silenced by the planned Extremism Disruption Order.

What might an Extremism Disruption Order involve? According to BBC reports and the website defendfreespeech.org, a court could impose any of the following conditions as part of an Extremism Disruption Order:

  • Banning someone from speaking in public, including on social media;
  • Banning them taking a position of authority, such as a school governor; or
  • Restricting who they can associate with

These Orders are the brainchild of our new Prime Minister, Chairman May. When she was still Home Secretary, she said that the Orders will focus on “extremism of all sorts”, which, if she was the church-going Anglican she claims to be, she would have rendered as “All Sorts and Conditions of Extremism.” But, extremism of all sorts? What is meant here is the silencing of all those with offensive, hurtful, hateful, subversive, anarchist, liberal, libertarian, conservative, or reactionary opinions and beliefs which might conceivably cause “distress” to all of some of the Usual Suspects. The planned Orders will crackdown on the spreading, the promoting, and the justifying – heaven forfend you should put forward any arguments – of naughty opinions and beliefs. And speaking of justification, again according to defendfreespeech.org, press reports suggest a weakening of the criminal test of “beyond reasonable doubt” to the civil law test of “balance of probabilities.”

The Orders will be used also to “tackle those venues and facilitators that help extremists to continue their activities.” The message is clear: those with the wrong opinions and beliefs – and here we do not mean incorrect, but politically incorrect – will be gagged and locked up, and all those who shelter and support them will be similarly punished.

Welcome, fellow extremists, to this, the first conference of the Ludwig von Mises Centre UK!

We exist to spread, promote, and – again heaven forfend – justify our belief in a free society, a society shaped only by the voluntary interactions and preferences of its members, a natural order. We believe in a natural elite, an organic social hierarchy whose authority does not rest upon coercive power. We, who have as Lew Rockwell said, “made our peace with religion”, recognise the Christian foundations on which our civilisation was built. We treat with contempt, as Kipling did, the all-too-common secular state-worship of those on both the Left and the pseudo-Right:

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,

We believe in private property, the market economy, and free trade and reject welfare statism, regulation, protectionism, and the State provision of so-called ‘Public Goods.’ We reject all politically correct propaganda and recognise that we are not all equal and that no amount of State intrusion into our lives can make us so. We reject the dominant egalitarian doctrine of our age as anti-scientific, self-contradictory, and downright absurd and the egalitarian programme as antithetical to human flourishing.  We deny any supposed ‘right’ to free international subsidised mass-trespass. We believe in sound money and reject fractional reserve banking and central banks as fraudulent or simply as utter folly. We oppose all costly and otherwise disastrous wars of western, typically US-led aggression in the Middle East and elsewhere. We oppose, nay, we laugh in the face of, all attempts by cry-baby students, neo-Puritans, and cultural Marxists to shut down debate, ban jokes and fun generally, whitewash history, and pin the blame for all the world’s problems on straight white men. But most importantly, we reject as unnecessary, destructive, and evil, the existence of an all-powerful monopolist of violence, namely the State – all States and any State – and, in the words of the greatest living libertarian theorist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, characterise it thus:

“[as] an institution run by gangs of murderers, plunderers, and thieves, surrounded by willing executioners, propagandists, sycophants, crooks, liars, clowns, charlatans, dupes, and useful idiots — an institution that dirties and taints everything it touches.”

Mises UK is clearly, therefore, an extremist outfit. We are extremists, as defined by the powers that be, that is, and I suggest we wear that designation as a badge of honour. We cannot take it for granted that our meetings will always be permitted by the British State to go ahead or that Leftist agents of provocation will not attend with recording devices.

Left-Wing Provocation and Smears

For some time, the Libertarian Alliance, a forerunner to Mises UK, as part of its broad outreach strategy, sent Committee Members to the conferences of the Traditional Britain Group, a successor to the Western Goals Institute and the old Conservative Party Monday Club, the closest this country has to the paleoconservative-turned-Alt-Right movement. The Traditional Britain Group has faced repeated attacks by all the Usual Suspects and last year was the victim of a smear campaign on an ITV television programme by a producer called David Henshaw, with contributions from Nick Lowles and Matthew Collins of the notorious hot-air merchants Hope Not Hate. From what I can tell from the letter published by the Traditional Britain Group, a far-Left agent of provocation going by the false name of Hazel gained the confidence of the Traditional Britain Group committee at their 2017 October conference, and proceed to conduct covert filming. The filming, Mr Henshaw writes smugly in his letter, was “strictly in accordance with    the Ofcom Broadcasting Code (which regulates broadcasting) and sanctioned at senior level at ITV in accordance with the strict conditions set out in ITV’s own written protocols.” Brilliant. A smear campaign defending its behaviour by assuring the victim that it was playing by its own, very strict, rules! The response of the Traditional Britain Group to all the usual, predictable smears, was to not to grovel or apologise, but to refute them and point out how laughable they are. This, I suggest, should be our approach if faced with similar attacks.

This being said, Mises UK is not the Traditional Britain Group. Our beliefs are different and our focus is different. We take full responsibility for the speeches that will be made today. We take none for any private conversations that may be overheard and recorded. We only ask our guests to remember that this is a libertarian conference, and that our focus is on life, liberty, and property, sound money, the free market, and peace – and their various protections. We do not welcome conversations on what, for the moment, are our premises, that may contradict this focus. We do not welcome careless and thoughtless expressions of eccentric opinions. Rather, the purpose of this conference, and all our future events, is to spark off intelligent conversation and further the intellectual development of the nascent Austrolibertarian movement in this country.

And the very existence of such an anti-establishment libertarian movement, or the germ of such a movement, is in no small part due to the tireless efforts of a few great men.

Libertarianism in Britain

Immediately after the Second World War, Labour MP Hartley Shawcross neatly summed up the situation in this country, saying “We are the masters now!” The libertarian standard at this time was held by one organisation, the Society for Individual Freedom. The Society for Individual Freedom, was formed in 1944, out of merger of two organisations: the economically liberal League of Freedom led by Lord Lyle of the Conservative Party; and the socially liberal Society of Individualists, led by Sir Ernest Benn of the Liberal Party. The presence of F.A. Hayek in England at the LSE had relatively little impact, Hayek himself noting that after a year of teaching at the LSE, one of his students had asked him what his political views were! Hayek, then, was hardly an active evangelist for the free market libertarian cause. Nevertheless, despite the LSE’s reputation for being a leftist hotbed, there did exist a small number of free market economists at the LSE, such as Lionel Robbins, himself instrumental in bringing Hayek over to England, Arnold Plant (whose research assistant was Arthur Seldon); Ronald Coase; G.F. Thirlby; and Ronald Edwards.

The first appearance of anything that might be termed ‘libertarianism’ in this country, though, is marked by the setup of the Institute of Economic Affairs in 1955. Of the six chairmen so far, few have been real libertarians, and few have veered into political economy, preferring to get bogged down in technical detail. Nevertheless, the IEA was an important organisation for libertarians and it struggled during its first fifteen years to get much of hearing at all, being so far outside the Butskellite-post-war socialist consensus and of mainstream economic thinking. At the beginning, they were regarded as nutters.

After the IEA came other organisations. The Young Libertarians were the first of these. A small group, founded, perhaps in 1966, by David Myddelton and Robert Carnaghan, which used to meet in Myddelton’s flat from time to time, they held a public demonstration in 1970, ending with a march around the Bank of England. Those in attendance at the demonstration numbered six.  The six Young Libertarians – Robert Carnaghan, Gerald Howarth (who was General Secretary of the Society for Individual Freedom), David Myddelton and his younger brother Roger, Pauline Russell (an American), and Chris R. Tame. The group faded away after that, but in 1971 Chris Tame, Pauline Russell, and Mark Brady set up the Radical Libertarian Alliance. Soon after this, Tame would announce his intention to leave the Conservative Party in a speech at the annual conference of the Federation of Conservative Students; in this speech, Tame attacked the Party for being run by a “corporate elite.” Tame would later become manager of the Alternative Bookshop, set up in 1978, and described as a libertarian “Mecca.” This was at 40 Floral Street, Covent Garden, with an eclectic collection of ‘libertarian’ books – including science fiction, civil liberties literature, and some economics.  The Bookshop became an informal libertarian headquarters in London, being a great centre of gossip and discussion of libertarian issues. The Bookshop was advertised in The Free Nation, the journal of the National Association for Freedom, an organisation founded by Ross and Norris McWhirter, originally to oppose militant trades unions. It was in December 1979, having read this advertisement, that Sean Gabb met Chris Tame.

While there is some debate over when exactly the Libertarian Alliance was founded – some say the late 1960s, citing an informal discussion group of Chris Tame’s, some say as late as 1979 – this is not enormously important. It seems to have existed before the Alternative Bookshop, since the Bookshop itself served as a meeting place for the Libertarian Alliance. There was also, in 1982, a split, causing there to be two groups calling themselves the Libertarian Alliance. The Libertarian Alliance that still meets in London, at a meeting of which I have spoken, is the organisation after the split run by Mark Brady, David Ramsay Steele, and others, and today run by largely by David McDonagh. From the 1980s onwards, the organisation run by Chris Tame published a terrific volume of literature on almost every conceivable topic. They also appeared in the news media and held conferences. One especially entertaining video, which is available on-line on the former Libertarian Alliance’s YouTube channel ‘Free Life’, is a recording of Chris Tame’s appearance on Channel 4’s ‘If I Were Prime Minister.’ Here, Tame makes an unapologetic case for privatising the police, legalising all drugs, abolishing the Firearms Acts, and much more.

More important than his talents as a writer and speaker, which were very great, or the benign influence he had on civil servants and Margaret Thatcher and her ministers with his recommended reading material and his own arguments, was the way that he acted as the anchor of the small libertarian movement in this country. Tame, not beholden to any corporatist or neoliberal think tank or political party, cared not for moderation and always sought to hold power to account. The Libertarian Alliance was unique among free market groups in the late 1980s for not only calling for much more economic freedom, but for criticising the Thatcher government’s restrictions on civil liberties.

Shortly before Chris Tame’s death in 2006, Sean Gabb became Director of the Libertarian Alliance. Since then, the libertarian movement in this country has looked to him as it once did to Chris Tame. At times Sean cut a lonely figure. Almost single-handedly, not only among British libertarians but among those on the Right generally, Sean put the case against the invasion of Iraq. Almost entirely single-handedly, he opposed the agenda of Political Correctness. Single-handedly, he drove the Conservative Party into meltdown when he published his list of Conservative parliamentary candidates who wouldn’t give a straight answer over European Union integration. For many years, Sean was the only British libertarian of note who would attend Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s conferences in Turkey. To many Americans, Sean has long been regarded – owing to his great eloquence, volubility, and boldness, in both the written and spoken word, and the relative silence or wishy-washiness of all the other libertarians – as the only libertarian in Britain.

Establishment Libertarianism

If, then, there has existed since the War, a succession of explicitly libertarian groups outside the mainstream, there have since the mid-1970s existed a number of more Establishment-friendly free market organisations. Most of these have also been connected in some way or other with the Conservative Party. The first such think tank was the Centre for Policy Studies, set up by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher soon after the Party lost power in 1974. More independent of the Conservative Party than the CPS, the Adam Smith Institute was founded in 1977 by Madsen Pirie and Stuart and Eamonn Butler, and sought to influence the first post-war British government which might be interested in free markets. While the Institute of Economic Affairs has some very serious libertarians on their staff, such as Richard Wellings, the ASI, whose media exposure and financial resources are very great, announced in 2016 that they were no longer libertarians, but “neoliberals.” Organisations such as these are invariably much less libertarian than organisations such as the Institute of Economic Affairs and the Libertarian Alliance. The IEA and the Libertarian Alliance were set up to spread ideas and reach out to hearts and minds; the CPS and the ASI were set up to explain to governments how best to achieve their own ends. The former approach argues for smaller government; the latter for more efficient government. There is a difference.

The Example of Mises

And so, libertarianism in the United Kingdom has not been a rip-roaring success. Furthermore, we should not kid ourselves that Mises UK will be able to ‘save’ the country from its folly overnight. We have hardly any money, we have limited time and other resources, and the state of the country is so dire that even were we to import the Auburn Mises Institute and the movement it has created, the task would still be an immensely difficult one. The intellectual and political atmosphere in Britain has moved sharply to the left on cultural and economic issues just in the past year, and as I mentioned at the beginning, historic English civil liberties are being stripped away one by one. And the great ‘libertarian’ victory of the generation, the Eurosceptic victory in the plebiscite in June 2016, the vote to “take back control” and achieve “independence” from the European Union, is looking in practice more and more like an establishment stich-up. Brexit, it seems, will not mean Brexit. And as the old social democratic consensus breaks down, with the now Marxist-led Labour Party gaining ground, putting the argument for free markets, sound money, property rights, decentralisation, and peace could hardly be more important.

However, we have reasons to be hopeful. The man in whose honour our organisation was established should be a source of considerable inspiration. Ludwig von Mises was sixty and penniless when he arrived in the United States, having, like many of his co-religionists, fled Europe in 1940s. He was a liberal – an old-fashioned liberal – and a free marketer. The leading men in Europe at the time were not. Fascism, National Socialism, social democracy, and communism were the dominant ideologies of his time, and yet, through the seminars held at the university at which he taught and at his own home, Mises trained the next generation of real economists: to name a few, Ralph Raico, George Reisman, Israel Kirzner. By the time he retired in 1969, his greatest student, Murray Rothbard, was able to take up the unofficial post of Dean of the Austrian School. And the work of Mises and Rothbard has borne fruit in the enormously successful Ludwig von Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, whose entirely benign influence is daily felt in the world. Whereas the number of Austrian economists in the United States could once fit in Ludwig von Mises’ living room, and the number of libertarians in the United States could once fit in Murray Rothbard’s living room, there now exists an active, confident, and growing Austrolibertarian movement in not just the United States but in much of the civilised world. Now it’s about time Britain had such a movement. It starts today.

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