Big Head Press

L. Neil Smith's
Number 375, July 9, 2006

"This insane and petty Prohibitionism"

The Future Path of a Libertarian Movement
by Christopher Awuku

Credit The Libertarian Enterprise

As a libertarian, I like to keep abreast of happenings within the libertarian movements of countries around the world, since they are naturally seeking to create a freer society and freer world. Within these nations there are a number of think tanks, political parties and other organisations dedicated to promoting and disseminating ideas about liberty. This is all well and good, nonetheless how does the future path of liberty present itself?

Let me focus on the libertarian movement in one specific country. The United Kingdom has a rich freedom-oriented tradition. A number of the greatest figures in the liberal (note I mean classical liberal) and libertarian tradition were from Britain, which include such people as Locke, MacCauley, J.S. Mill and Lord Acton. The primary libertarian organisation in Britain at present is the Libertarian Alliance, which was led for many years by Dr. Chris Tame. Sadly, Dr. Tame died of cancer in the spring of 2006. Nonetheless, his viewpoints provided the basis for the strategy and policies of the Libertarian Alliance. In essence there are four central pillars that Dr. Tame stressed were paramount for the Libertarian Alliance to follow.

Point One—Libertarians have lost for the foreseeable future

As libertarians, we must be brutally honest, and accept defeat in the short-term. The status quo in the world today is overwhelmingly statist in nature. The man on the street generally values this situation of statism. For this reason, it would be overly optimistic and nave to expect a swift implementation of libertarianism in the near future. The drive towards a freer society probably will be a long struggle. It may take decades, or even centuries. In this case, the push for liberty should be a long-term effort.

Point Two—Refrain from arguing over petty differences in belief

Libertarians are human and as such we reason differently and also perceive the world differently. This state of affairs naturally leads to differences of opinion, taste and values. As libertarians, we would all accept that other libertarians possess different views on various issues. In this sense, we shouldn't be prepared to disassociate with others, simply because their viewpoints aren't consistent with our own. Libertarianism still remains a relatively fringe ideology in many areas of the world and it would be foolish for the libertarian movement to lack cohesion due to this fact. We should be willing to accept all that believe in the non-aggression principle into our movement, irrespective of their individual beliefs surrounding certain issues.

Point Three - Refrain from engaging in party politics

The third point that Dr. Tame stressed was that British libertarians shouldn't form a libertarian political party. Costa Rica is, to date, the only country in the world with a successful libertarian party. No major Western nation has ever possessed a libertarian political party that has gained representation within a legislature. The US Libertarian Party has been in existence since the early 1970's, yet hasn't made much of an electoral impact in that time. In the 2004 presidential election, the Libertarian candidate received only 0.32% of the popular vote. In addition to this, the existence of ballot access and campaign finance legislation often hinders the efforts of smaller parties. Nevertheless, in reference to my first point, libertarians cannot desire mainstream political representation considering that we have lost for the time being.

Barriers to third parties also exist in the United Kingdom. The "first-past-the-post" voting system used in UK general elections is often rebuked for being unfair to smaller parties, since larger parties gain a greater opportunity for representation in the House of Commons. If the Greens, United Kingdom Independence Party or even the British National Party cannot gain representation under the current voting system, then what hope exists for a libertarian party? By law, a political party in the UK can spend a maximum of 20 million in a general election. Since libertarianism remains a fringe belief in the UK, there would be little scope in order to raise 20 million to fight a general election.

One should also consider the second point that I've previously raised. Since libertarians hold differing views on various issues, it would be difficult to properly formulate a manifesto (or platform) on which to fight elections. Such disparities in opinion may lead to infighting, backbiting and the breakdown of the libertarian movement in the UK.

Point four—The Battle of Ideas

As I've stated earlier, the eventual implementation of libertarian ideas may not actually take place in the near future. Libertarians should be prepared to create a set of consistent policies that can be instituted. It is also essential for a focus on long-term propaganda to be created, in addition to short-term activism that has a temporary effect. Issuing press releases on current affairs from a libertarian perspective can do this, since it makes people aware of an alternative viewpoint. It could also inspire others into libertarian activism; there may be some libertarian-leaning people who wonder whether others feel the same as they do.

The Implications of Dr. Tame's ideas

Notwithstanding the death of Dr. Tame, these central points still form the strategy of the Libertarian Alliance. Could any other approaches be feasible? Well, yes. Political outreach could form a major role in libertarian strategy, whilst being in accordance with Dr. Tame's values.

Outreach would succeed in the battle of ideas. With consistent exposure to libertarian ideals, people may sway towards libertarianism. It would also aid in securing the next generation of libertarians. Naturally, we all have our time on this planet. Therefore, we need people to take up the struggle after we've gone, especially if the execution of libertarian ideals is to be a long-term process. In this sense, British libertarians could look towards the Advocates for Self-Government as a viable model on which to base an outreach organisation.

All in all, Dr. Tame's ideals are rather unique, in the context of global libertarian movements. For one, Canada, the United States, Australia, Costa Rica and New Zealand all possess libertarian political parties, whilst the United Kingdom doesn't. Still, British libertarians seek to uphold Dr. Tame's legacy and work towards the creation of a freer society.


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