FLC203, The Libertarian Alliance: A Plain View of What Has Happened, Sean Gabb, 10th February 2011
Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 203
10th February 2011
The Libertarian Alliance:
A Plain Account of What Has Happened
By Sean Gabb
Following our President’s resignation the other day, I sent out a news release filled with lush mutual flattery and with promises of future glory. But this will never do. The truth is that, both morally and financially, the Libertarian Alliance has been severely damaged. I have no doubt that I can repair this damage. Those who have caused it are persons of no long term importance, and their attacks will, in due course fade into obscurity. Even so, I do feel it is my duty, as Director of the Libertarian Alliance, to give the plainest and most truthful account that I can manage of what has happened.
Now, I do appreciate that internal disputes are endemic to small organisations. We can all laugh at the bitter sectarianism of the Trotskyites and of some religious groups, but libertarians are not immune from the same tendencies. Small organisations are dominated by often excitable and touchy intellectuals. These people work together very closely for long periods. There is none of the ballast that monied pragmatism brings to the main political parties. This means that differences of opinion will tend to cause personal breaches. In turn, personal breaches will tend to be remodelled as differences of opinion. However they begin, internal disputes can become very bitter very quickly. I have seen people go mad from them. Worst of all, outsiders are soon thoroughly put off by contradictory statements of fact, and by increasingly hysterical claims from each side about the moral blackness of the other.
This being said, I will do my best to keep the present account brief and to avoid bitterness. If I am drawn into further debate, and if I find myself neglecting the duties I have promised to perform, I shall have failed in my stated purpose.
On Thursday the 3rd February 2011, Tim Evans called me to announce his resignation as President of the Libertarian Alliance. This was made with immediate effect; and his news release would already have gone out to everyone else had his computer not been off-line. I observed that, as his partner in the Libertarian Alliance, I surely deserved some advance notice. But he was close to tears, and so I let him run on and on about his reasons for stepping down – his personal life, the pressures of his university course, the growing calls on his time made by the Cobden Centre. He told me that it was my decision alone how to replace him, and he offered me his best wishes for the future.
That evening, I made my decision. The office of President was created by Chris Tame specifically for Tim. He had to be given some position in the Libertarian Alliance, and I was already to follow Chris as the Director. Now that Tim was going, I saw no reason to bring in another President. My own preference was to democratise the committee structure, and to devolve more functions to the individual members. I explained this to the Committee members, and the responses varied between acceptance and enthusiasm. I also explained this to Tim, who made no objection.
During the weekend, I learned that Tim was making long telephone calls to other members of the Committee. He was insisting on the need for another President – certain names kept being mentioned – and that I had too many “personality defects” to be left in charge of the Libertarian Alliance.
On Sunday, I discovered that the resignation had been discussed on the Samizdata and Brian Micklethwait blogs. Within minutes of its announcement, Brian was predicting that the resignation would lead to the total collapse of the Libertarian Alliance, and that people should get copies of their own publications from the website before it was taken down. On Samizdata, Tom Burroughes began speculations on a policy difference between me and Tim. More specific claims were then made by Paul Marks and supported by Antoine Clarke, who is Tim’s oldest friend. When I pointed all this out to Tim, he denied that the claims should be read in their natural meaning, and he wrote to me several times to confirm that there were no differences between us of any kind and that he was resigning for the reasons given in his news release.
On Sunday evening, I learned that confidential e-mails between Committee members had been leaked to Antoine, and that he was now calling on Libertarian Alliance subscribers to stop giving financial support. I was being denounced by at least half a dozen people as a Marxist, an anarcho-communalist, a national socialist, a follower of Kevin Carson, of Hans-Hermann Hoppe, as an atheist, and as an opportunistic charlatan with no fixed ideological beliefs.
On Monday morning, I was given a detailed set of accounts of income and spending for the Libertarian Alliance. I discovered that, excluding all matters relating to the conference, something like three quarters of all income had been spent by Tim on food and drink, and that he had paid £1,000 to the Taxpayers Alliance and £2,500 to Nurses for Reform, which is an organisation run by his wife. All this depleted our funds. We began 2011 with no money in our accounts. There are substantial bills to be paid. It is reasonable to expect that donations will now fall off sharply.
I will omit all the correspondence that followed. It is enough to say that I have decided, with immediate effect, to downsize all activities of the Libertarian Alliance. Until further notice, there will be no more conferences or lectures or dinners. We shall instead focus on publication and media outreach. This will be greatly improved by our new website, which is still under construction. Anyone who claims – or hopes – that the Libertarian Alliance is about to collapse is mistaken. It will continue to function, under my leadership, outside what is called the Movement. But it will not be the Libertarian Alliance of grand, loss-making conferences and lavish dinners, presided over by Tim Evans.
A Commentary on the Facts
These are the facts of what has happened. The obvious questions are what it all means – and then how I intend to continue running the Libertarian Alliance in the face of bitter and even hysterical denunciation from those who set the intellectual tone of the Movement.
I will begin with Tim Evans. When he discovered that he was dying, Chris Tame decided to leave the Libertarian Alliance to Tim and to me. We were to run it as a partnership after Chris died – I to oversee its publishing and general outreach, Tim to raise the money to pay for this. However, Chris had, for many years, regarded Tim as unreliable. There was no doubt that Tim’s long association with the Libertarian Alliance, and his assurances of greater funding, should be recognised. But Chris decided that I should be given ultimate supremacy in the Libertarian Alliance.
Here, I should explain that all the assets of the Libertarian Alliance are the property of the Libertarian Alliance Ltd. Power in the Libertarian Alliance is determined by possession of shares in the Libertarian Alliance Ltd. Chris arranged a 49 per cent share for Tim in the limited company and the rest for me. He instructed me not to make an issue of my supremacy, but to leave Tim alone in his work for the Libertarian Alliance, and even to let the world think that Tim was the dominant partner.
Sadly, Tim does not appear to have noticed that 49 shares out of 100 did not add up to equality in the limited company. When he finally did notice, in October 2010, I explained its purpose very gently and reminded him that I had never made use of my golden share, and saw no reason why I ever should. Nevertheless, Tim was upset, and I did see a change thereafter in his behaviour.
It was, I now realise, a mistake to assume that Tim understood the situation and chose not to discuss it. On the other hand, he has always claimed to be financially astute. Also, he is notoriously hard to deal with. In 23 years, I have never known him to say plainly what was in his mind. My assumption was not unreasonable.
Whatever the specific causes, this may be the general cause of his resignation. I do not absolve him of blame for his sudden – and, indeed, his insulting – resignation, nor for his stupidity in leaking internal correspondence. But I cannot believe that what has happened was ever his intention. He decided to resign because of an argument at home, or a heavy commitment at the Cobden Centre, or because of a difficult essay for his university degree. These are guesses. But he was not in his right mind last Thursday. As said, he was close to tears. He failed to explain that he was not really intending to leave everything in my hands. Instead of recovering the mistake by a frank telephone discussion with me, he contented himself with a series of unwise telephone calls to the rest of the Committee, and otherwise went whining to his friends.
The Friends of Tim Evans
When Tim leaked our internal correspondence to Antoine Clarke, and told him about the actual balance of the shareholdings, he may have been fishing for sympathy. If he thought what he said would go no further, he made a catastrophic mistake.
I do not dislike the people who cluster round Tim Evans. They are not substantial enough to dislike. I am qualified to say that Tim is a person with many faults, but also many excellent qualities. His creatures are people of very small quality. They are, for the most part, single men somewhat advanced in years. Whether they live on inherited money, or with their parents, or on various disguised forms of welfare benefit, they have never achieved anything of note. Their collected blogging paragraphs might not fill a school exercise book. I believe that the wild or merely vulgar abuse they have been heaping on me is motivated less by any valid concerns than by envy. This is not an emotion people will normally admit even to themselves, and I do not doubt that these people have now convinced each other that I am what they say I am. But I doubt if any reasonable man would disagree with my belief about them.
The Causes of Envy
Let me speak of myself. I am married. I am a father. I am solvent. I hold and have held a number of important positions. I am a clear and fluent writer, and I may one day be regarded as a very minor classic of English literature. My published writings, if collected, would fill twenty standard volumes. The diaries I have kept since childhood would fill another twenty. My writings include six books of non-fiction and seven novels and three volumes of poetry, published under my own name or under other names. I have been commercially translated into Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Greek, Hungarian and Slovak. I do have friends who have achieved still more. But I am the only person in the British libertarian movement able to claim an international and perhaps an enduring reputation. And I have done all this by myself. I began with no advantages of wealth and family connections. There is more that I could have done, and more that I hope yet to do. But I have some reason for pride. I am sure that, whatever defects may be held against me, it is my achievements that have given most offence.
My alleged defects are an interest in the work of Kevin Carson and the other mutualist libertarians, and accusations that I am a national socialist. These are feeble claims. It is the duty of a libertarian activist to spread libertarian ideas by whatever means may seem proper and expedient. These libertarian ideas may not change in their fundamentals – a belief in individual autonomy and dignity, and in the necessary supports for these things. But the accidentals of emphasis and modes of argument do change. The world has become a different place since 1990. Until then, it could be argued that liberty was best promoted by hostility to trade union power and support of big business, and by firm opposition to the Soviet Union. Even forgetting about the last of these, this approach may no longer be relevant in a world where large corporations are not so much a counterweight to government power, as part of a system of unified economic and political domination at the global level. As John Morley said of Burke, I have not shifted my position – I have simply changed front.
As for my alleged national socialism, I believe that the British National Party has been a victim of some very sinister uses of administrative and legal power by the State. I do not need to agree with anything that the BNP says to insist that its treatment has been unfair in itself, and has set an evil precedent. I see no reason for keeping silent about this. Twenty years ago, I wrote the first and perhaps the best defence of a group of homosexual sado-masochists who had been prosecuted for beating each other up on their own property. I paid no attention then to the funny looks that got me. Today, the main targets of state persecution are no longer sexual minorities but political dissidents. If continuing to argue for freedom of speech and association still gets me funny looks, though with a different excuse, it is one of the costs of being a libertarian activist.
I have been much condemned for my new novel, The Churchill Memorandum. This has been made into an excuse for accusations of sympathy for Adolf Hitler. None of my critics has read the novel. Anyone who does read it will see that it is a work of English nationalism, not of national socialism. All of the English characters are either power-mad or just mad. The only completely sympathetic character is an American Jewish disciple of Ayn Rand. The only other moderately heroic character is an Indian doctor.
Let me quote a review of the novel, published on Facebook by John Kersey:
I must say I didn't have high hopes of "The Churchill Memorandum". I thought it would sink under the weight of an ambitious attempt at a Zelig-like alternative history as numerous other works in the genre have done previously. I am happy to say I was wrong and I am thoroughly enjoying it. It is a well-crafted novel of ideas, the most significant of which to my mind is the considerable lost opportunities in terms of technological and social benefit to British society that were caused by the economic and cultural costs of WWII. Anyone who thinks this book is an apology for Hitler or simply a Fifties nostalgia-fest hasn't read it closely enough (or in some cases at all, I suspect).
I have been the victim of a smear campaign by men who were looking for an excuse to attack me. If it had not been Tim’s resignation, it would have been something else.
However, they have done their work. The Libertarian Alliance has been wrecked over the past few days. Half of its Committee has departed. Its funding is drying up one subscriber at a time. I am left with the sad duty of trying to save what I can of the wreckage and keeping this together while I chart a new course for the future. I recognise that I am not a natural leader. On the other hand, I conduct my arguments in the open. I keep my promises. I do not proceed by fits and starts. I have never yet failed in any enterprise on which I have set my heart. I do not think I am boasting if I say that, of all the people in the British libertarian movement, no one else is as likely as I am to have a long term intellectual and cultural impact.
If you are one of the subscribers to the Libertarian Alliance, you have every right to feel aggrieved that the organisation you have been funding has just experienced a significant change in its nature. If you have no confidence in my abilities, you must of course, end your payments forthwith. But I do ask you to discount the accusations of a jealous clique that I am in any sense not a committed libertarian.
If you see the publication record of the Libertarian Alliance as lasting and substantial, and the blogging of Samizdata and Brian Micklethwait and all the rest as tomorrow’s electronic fish and chip wrappings, I do recommend myself to you. Our new website has been under construction for a while now. When it is ready to go on-line, you will see that it shows our publications to much better effect than has so far been the case. It will also enable the relaunch of Free Life as an electronic and interactive journal. Tim and I had already decided that the time was right to start paying writers for original material. So far as the money will be there, that is still my own intention.
I promise that whatever money you continue subscribing will be used to maintain our long and distinguished record of publication. It will not this time be spent on food and drink in Marsham Street.