Why is there no Libertarian movement in the UK?

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Why is there no Libertarian movement in the UK?

  • Brad L. Farr

    I am very curious, there is no legitimate libertarian movement in the UK. The closest there is to that is the eurosceptic crowd (which all of us fall under anyway), which isn’t libertarian anyway, due to the majority of eurosceptics being statists. Are there just too few of us in the UK to create a movement? Or are we all just hiding in the proverbial closet about our love of liberty?

    The silence from the UK compared to the US regarding liberty is so deafening, there seems to be nobody from the UK that is bringing attention to the evils of statism and promoting liberty, libertarian ethics, the NAP, anarcho-capitalism, etc. and I want to change that, so how do we go about this?

    Edit: And I’m not talking about a political movement, or a libertarian party. There is no dialogue whatsoever in the UK about these issues, and I think we need to deal with that.

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  • Alan Lynch

    Hi Brad,

    I understand what you mean. I have been thinking about this more and more recently.

    My main interest is investing and speculation and I can’t find any specialised UK equivalents in likes of Doug Casey, Eric Sprott, Rick Rule etc.

    I have some ideas as to why this is but I would like to help change that by spreading the message in the UK. I think the market in the UK could be huge as there are not that many Ancaps (that I know of anyway) that could massively benefit from this information.

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    Roger Browne

    Most of the independent-minded people had the ambition and drive to emigrate during the expansion of the British Empire. Those who stayed behind were generally those who were comfortably ensconced in the system, or were too poor to leave. We still see the echoes of that situation today.

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    Alan Lynch

    I think that is a fair point roger. It looks like the US is coming to the end of their Empire pretty soon. Using this thinking then, we should all move to China or Russia, as they will be in front positions for the next expansion.

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    Gary J. Hall

    I think the closest we get in the UK is the Adam Smith Institute, which classes itself as a libertarian think-tank. Its blog is good for a sound Austrian take on current government economic policies and economic issues in the UK in general. Although they spend quite a lot of time dismantling Guardian articles, which is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel in my opinion. They appear to hold a minarchist position because they don’t argue against taxation, only for tax reforms. Other than this, like you say, libertarianism doesn’t seem to have much of a voice in the UK. I think us chaps here on liberty.me can probably change that.

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    Anna Winters

    The education system and arguably the media in the UK are significantly more involved with the state than is the case in the States, these being the primary mechanisms through which people are exposed to ideas.

    Britain has no history of a classical liberal written constitution in the way the US does, and no recent history of strong gun rights (the ability to defend oneself and one’s property being a precursor to having any rights at all) or most other negative rights.

    No comparable federal/state division. Most libertarians in America seem more libertarian at the federal level than they are at the state level.

    Arguable some portion of the libertarian movement in the US comes out of religion. Whereas in the UK you have the CoE that is part of the state itself (as a result being of poor quality and leading to a mostly secular population), in America there is much more of a free market in religion with many competing groups that view the state as a source of competition for influence/power.

    There is a very strong and visible class system in the UK, and although its origin and continued existence has nothing whatsoever to do with free market capitalism (what little of which we have had has instead created a situation where even the poorest have smartphones), the political spectrum is essentially between those on the Tory/UKIP side who want to maintain the comfortable lifestyles of the most comfortable and those on the Labour/Green side who want to use state largesse to redistribute it. There is no room for libertarian ideas to enter the debate from either side.

    More or less the same elite has been in place in the UK since 1066, almost a millennium ago. These aren’t any islands where the “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time” Jeffersonian ideal has with any significance often taken place. As others have alluded to, freedom-yearners have long since migrated to the States or elsewhere.

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    Cory MⒶssimino

    While I’m not too familiar with the state of the movement in the UK, this is an online publication I edit and write for that is based out of the UK; often focusing on UK news and politics from a libertarian perspective. We are always looking for more readers and contributors if anyone is interested.

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      Gary J. Hall

      Great. I didn’t know this existed. Thanks for the heads up.

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      Josh

      Thanks for sharing, though I couldn’t get the link to work mate.

       

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    Jan Zeber

    Whilst I agree that there may be very few libertarian/classical liberal voices in the UK mastream, to say they are non-existent is a little unfair. The problem I think is that it is mostly young 17-25 year olds who form the core of the movement, I am 21 myself and active in several excellent libertarian-minded organisations. So, for anyone interested, below is what the landscape looks like:

    1. Parliamentary politics – the Tories are currently the best choice for a classical liberal, MPs like Steve Baker, David Davis, or John Redwood to name just a few talk a lot about the free market and a little or not at all about how bad drugs are etc. UKIP has ceased to be, in my opinion, a viable alternative due to overt focus on controlling immigration and a string of dubious socially conservative policies (although their manifesto is currently under review). The Lib Dems, whilst socially liberal, are basically lefties now and can be compared to the Greens in terms of economics.

    2. Think-tanks – as already mentioned by Gary, the Adam Smith Institute is an outstanding institution promoting libertarian ideas, but by no means the only one, indeed if I was asked to name the most influential libertarian think-tank, it would be the Institute of Economic Affairs, who really do have a wide reach, with their reports and other publications frequently quoted in the media and presented at Select Committee meetings. Other free-market inclined institutions are Policy Exchange, Centre for Policy Studies and Civitas.

    3. Pressure groups/youth organisations – by far, the Taxpayers’ Alliance remains arguably the most well funded and influential pressure group, with countless media splashes, action days and publications focusing on Gov’t waste and cutting taxes. They have 2 offshoot groups, the Big Brother Watch and Business for Britain. The Freedom Association is the oldest group, recently focusing on the issue of the EU, with their Better Off Out campaign being arguably the best anti-EU voice out there. Finally, Liberty League is a youth organisation comprising of daughter student groups across the country, and an annual meeting in London (the Freedom Forum) which is a must for any young UK libertarian.

    I hope that helps, all of these groups have opportunities anyone can get involved in which may lead onto other things, I will be posting some soon, or you can just google any of them 🙂

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    Alexander J. Malt

    ^Wise words all.

    I think I’d add, in some amateur sociology, that the national myth is simply different from the US. In America the revolutionary war is still very much the national myth – so, colonists came from all over the world and fought to be free. (I call these things ‘myths’ because the truth of the matter is irrelevant – it could be true or false, the point is that it permeates American culture.) Our national myth on the other hand seems to be an underdog story of a time of great trials where we all pulled together (WWII), emerging victorious and entering the promised land of the welfare state (hence the worship – I mean that literally, it is religious worship) of the NHS.

    So I think the liberty movement is stronger in America because kids there are taught every day that Washington et al fought for liberty and that the US government protects the freedoms of the people. When American youths start to become disillusioned with the actions of their government it’s because they realise that the principles the government espouses and the principles it actual acts on are two different sets entirely – so libertarianism is very much in accordance with the national myth.

    In Britain it’s different. The myth is not about liberty. In fact, the myth is fine with the sacrifice of liberty, the emphasis on duty, on collectivism, on national unity, etc. Because the national myth is collectivist, when young Britons come of age and start calling the government into question the first thought is that it’s all the result of austerity, privatisation, etc.

    This seems to be more the case in Scotland and Wales, less so (but still overwhelmingly true) in England. That said, I’m encountering more an more young people who are waking up and realising that the collecitivst thing is really just ‘snout-in-trough’ politics. But I’m worried that it’s not enough. Hopefully a concerted libertarian effort could turn things around, and the ASI is doing sterling work on this front, but I suspect a lot more is needed.

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      Brad L. Farr

      I think you are completely correct, especially about the religious worship of the NHS. I’d never thought of it in those terms before, but you’re definitely right that the Church of England has been substituted with the welfare state with the NHS believed to be some perfect incorruptible system that must not be thought of critically.

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    Dan Stork Banks

    Check out the Cobden Centre which is an excellent hard money think tank run by Steve Baker MP who fortunately for the country, has just been appointed to the Treasury Select Committee.

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    Alexander J. Malt

    Seconded – the Cobden Centre is a wealth of great information! (Check out the response there to David Mitchell by yours truly.) On that note: This interview with Toby Baxendale – done by L.me’s very own Mr. Jeffrey Tucker – is perhaps quite relevant to this thread.

    Thanks for the kind words, Brad.

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    Ben P

    There isn’t a ‘movement’ because there is hardly anyone in this country who thinks like us, and of those who do, only a tiny minority would identify as a libertarian or similar.

    I’ve largely thought like a libertarian all my life, I just didn’t even know there was a word to describe my outlook until my thirties – perhaps 8-10 years ago (roughly correlating to my introduction to the internet!”).  Since then I’ve openly identified as a libertarian / anarchist / anarchocapitalist, but have yet to meet a single real human (ie not on the internet!) who understands what this means, yet alone agrees with me!

    Civil liberties arguments are as close as you will get to anything libertarian in UK politics.  And even then, the most radical mainstream voices (eg Liberty) are raging lefty statists, who would no doubt consider us to be ultra right-wing fringe loonies!

    We have a long way to go before we have a movement in this country, in my opinion.  However, I’m confident that there are many libertarians waiting to be discovered – I was there not that long ago!  We just have to make sure these people can see our flag! 🙂

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      Matthew John Hayden

      Maybe a black and yellow Union Jack…

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    Matthew John Hayden

    I just realised why there’s pretty much no Libertarian movement in the UK. There are a short list of things we should have started doing big time but have not. I am as much to blame as anyone, though I plead poverty as my excuse for my inaction of late – all I’ve done is write nay-saying articles about statism and a short book on how to derive universal ethics through praxeology (hopefully on kindle store tomorrow). So, what British libertarians need to do more of in the future includes;

     

    1. We need libertarians on every 6th Form College and University campus canvassing constantly on intergenerational debt. This is a gateway drug that will snare young people and make them suspicious of the state to the point of hatred.

    2. We need to raise the ancap flag as often as possible so it’s on TV as often as possible. Flash-mobbing Russell Brand waving the yellow and black would be delightful.

    3. Establish a political party (preferably with a name that is itself a manifesto like ‘Liberation’) and try to draw attention to government misbehaviour on such public fora as Question Time, mainstream news programs, and magazine shows.

    I think these days the online aspect is pretty self-explanatory.

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    Simon Goldie

    Hello,

    As well as the think tanks mentioned, there is LibertarianHome (variable quality of posts and a mix of libertarian ideas, the UK Libertarian Party (which has had some problems and is a small organisation),  Conservatives for Liberty backed by Conservative peer Matt Ridley and Tory MEP Daniel Hannon and there is also Douglas Carswell.

    It is true there isn’t one movement but there are many voices. Perhaps the reason there isn’t one movement is the nature of libertarians. To paraphrase Groucho Marx: “I would never join a libertarian movement that would have me as a member…”

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