FLC203, The Libertarian Alliance: A Plain View of What Has Happened, Sean Gabb, 10th February 2011

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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.

The Facts

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.

Tim Evans

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.

Concluding Appeal

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. 

Comments

Re: Tom Burroughes

Tom Burroughes is pathetic. He thinks it reasonable to berate Sean for having made entirely truthful public statements that are not best flattering to one of his alleged friends, when he himself is one of the clowns whose negligent public speculations (cf, shit-stirring) compelled Sean to make those statements. I don't know if the man really is as slow-witted as he seems to be, or whether Dim Tom is just a crude camouflage for an unpleasant personality. As neither possibility is encouraging, I won't be downcast if he reads these words and unfriends me on Facebook, because the value of any sort of friendship with such a creature must be negative.

Jeez! What a Bunch of Tossers!

I told you Sean, these people were bad news. If you'd listened to me you'd have got away from them years ago. No point telling us now they "are of no intellectual significance." One look at their wiki-blog wanking circle was enough for me.

Yeah, they're tossers one and all. And you're a tosser too for ever thinking they were your friends.

Brian Micklethwait Responds to Sean Gabb

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I know how bored most of my little band of regular readers must be by now with the current travails of the Libertarian Alliance, but I do want to say a few more things on the subject.

I am actually now less pessimistic about the future of the Libertarian Alliance, following this pronouncement by Sean Gabb.  I didn’t, in this posting, predict the total collapse of the Libertarian Alliance, as Sean accuses me of doing, but I did fear it as an outside possibility.  Here, following this, I expressed more serious pessimism.  But in this recent statement, Sean says nothing to suggest that any publications from the era when I did them, or any done since, will disappear, either directly, or by himself going further off the mental rails and therefore hinting at further melt-down for the organisation.  This new statement is still rather graceless towards various people, me included, but that won’t matter if the LA continues to do worthwhile libertarian stuff.

The most important bits, I think, in Sean Gabb’s account are his defences against fears that have been expressed that Sean is an English nationalist before he is a libertarian, and an anti-propertarian in the Kevin Carson mould before he is a libertarian.  (I have not studied Carson’s ideas, by the way.) Had Sean defended himself by saying that he is an English nationalist and a libertarian, a Carsonite and a libertarian, that would have been very troubling, but happily he did not do this.  No English nationalist who really is an English nationalist first and foremost and anything else way behind, were he to read Sean’s statement, could mistake Sean for someone joining him in his nationalist struggle without wanting to influence the intellectual content of that struggle in any way.  In general, Sean contests the suspicions expressed about his opinions, rather than agreeing and then redefining libertarianism to mean this other stuff.  Good.

One thing in particular that Sean says about Tim Evans is, however, very wrong.  Sean accuses Tim of financial misbehaviour.  I don’t believe a word of it.  I think Tim’s handling of the finances of the LA has been excellent, thoroughly honest, and a great improvement, in terms of money raised and then either stored up or well-spent, over the Tame/Micklethwait regime, and then the Tame/Gabb regime.  If Gabb now leads the LA successfully, he will have reason to thank Tim Evans.  With luck, this accusation will not be repeated and will soon be forgotten.  The danger for Sean, and by extension the LA, is that if this accusation gets more mileage, Tim will be put in the position of having to defend himself by proving Gabb wrong, which I am sure he will be able to do but which could get even messier.  Sean would be wise to say no more along these lines.  Unless of course he sees sense about Tim’s handling of the LA’s finances and changes his mind, in which case a public but brief apology would be in order.

As for what Sean says directly about me and about the here-today-gone-tomorrow, electronic fish-and-chip-wrapping nature of blogging, well, there is some truth in this.  Most blogging, certainly most blogging here, is very forgettable.  But that doesn’t mean that it has no impact at all, and certainly not when you add it all up.  Blogging, as practised by those who have done it most effectively (Guido Fawkes and Bishop Hill spring to mind – in the USA, Instapundit), is not only here today but is having lasting impact upon tomorrow.  I think that Sean’s appeal to those who think blogging is mere fish-and-chip-wrapping sets up a false choice, between on the one hand, most blogging and, on the other hand, the more lasting sorts of intellectual endeavour, such as books that last, academic scholarship that lasts, and the best and most lasting blogs and blog posts.  The truth is that blogging of the more chatty sort has its bigger impact by drawing attention towards the more long-lasting stuff.  Look no further than Bishop Hill.  First a mere libertarian blogger, among many others.  Then a specialist blogger about the climate change debate.  Then a writer of a best selling book about the climate change debate.  Would that book have sold so well, and have had the impact it has already had (let alone all the impact that it will go on having in the future), without all of us fish-and-chip-wrappers telling people about it?  Without blogging of any kind, this book would not even have been written.

Anyway, I promised Tim Evans that, if Sean went public with what he had been saying more privately about Tim earlier in the week, I would defend Tim in public.  I now rather wish I hadn’t promised this, because such is the internet that even contesting such an accusation risks drawing attention to it.  I have now defended Tim.  But while doing this, I didn’t want to suggest that nothing else in Sean’s statement mattered, hence the length of this posting.  

I have cancelled my LA

I have cancelled my LA membership and financial support. I want to say sorry to those others who may disagree with me and been my friends for many years, but that is my decision. Sean's genuine contributions to the libertarian cause - such as his relentless focus on our loss of civil liberties - are a matter of record, but I have to say that I have great doubts now about how he has handled this matter of Tim's resignation. I can understand that there are hurt feelings on either side, but this posting by Sean was very badly judged, in my view. I agree entirely with Brian Micklethwait's assessment of the issue.

Rgds

So what would you have had me do?

Roll over while your friends carried on snarling and yapping about me? Have you ever considered that the posting to which you and your friends have taken such exception was nothing more than a response to what had already been said and done?

However, you've made your choice. Good luck with it.

Oh - and thanks for just posting this on a public forum. The fact that we've known each other for 23 years doesn't seem to merit even a private confirmation.

As for posting on a public

As for posting on a public forum, it seems your long item the other day was about as public as it gets. I have not gone public with my own feelings before, but when I saw what you wrote about Tim Evans - whom we have known for nearly a quarter of century - then I wanted to say something. Anyway, let's draw a line.

rgds

Martin Summers Responds to Sean Gabb

Dear Sean, I have just cancelled my standing order having read your e-mail and blog posting.

I am appalled by what you have written. You have insulted some of the closest friends and supporters of the LA (and indeed Chris) and demonstrated, all too completely, your unsuitability to run the LA.

Martin Summers 
martin.summers@ymail.com

Our Support

Dear Sean,

You have always done such good work and are so reliable, there is not a doubt in my mind that you are in the right here. I have seen this sort of thing happen many times before, from when I first became a libertarian in 1969 just in time to witness the breakup of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF - a now stupid organization that has actually condemned Ron Paul) to our own own internal fights at the National Health Federation.

We support your efforts, we are behind you, and cannot think of a more ethical person to lead the Libertarian Alliance. I am certain that if Chris Tame were alive he would feel the same way and then some.

Warmest wishes & best of luck, you are doing a valuable job,

Scott Tips
President
NATIONAL HEALTH FEDERATION

Where is the E.Waugh or P.G. Wodehouse to fictionalize this?

Sean, forgive me, but I indulge my hilarity in reading your account, secure in the knowledge that the Alliance will survive this distraction.
You're right about the framing situation of this comedy: "excitable and touchy intellectuals" working at close quarters. Central character: A whey-faced wanker with a weakness for good food and drink. -- Not a devil, to be sure, but more like Hamilton Fish in Wodehouse's "Fish Preferred," who had a weakness for dancing. And then the blubbering climax! -- His lachrymose confession that hundreds of pounds sterling had been converted to oysters Rockefeller, Tournedos Rossini, and Beluga caviar, all disappeared down his gullet with a wash of the best Saint-Émilion.
It was too wonderful! I chortled with delight all the way through.

libertarian alliance

Sad news.Hope you can keep things going- your country/movement need you! I rather enjoyed The Churchill Memorandum and suspect that you've read Orwell's 1940 "Boys' Weeklies" article.i can introduce you to the papers he was writing about if you like.

Yes, I like Orwell

Yes, the novel was partly inspired by the Orwell essay. I was never a great fan of the Bunter novels, myself. I preferred Enid Blyton.

Welcome to the world of politics

Sean,

There are people who "can" and they "do".
There are people who "can't" and they "don't".

Welcome to the real world of committees and perhaps it will ease your mind that chairmen of ICI, Shell and Political parties go through this on a regular basis.

Most people of the same faith as us are perhaps a little more brighter than the statists and the centists so this will soon appear as a distant memory.

I believe your story, and the part that emphasises the truth is the two share difference. Once I read that everything immediately settled into place with regards to Tim and his actions.

And the others who are condemning you? They're just jockeying for position, either for themselves or for their factional interests.

Ampers.

Perhaps the food and drink

Perhaps the food and drink expenditures and donations to Nurses for Reform were merely a laudable attempt to achieve (ahem) Socialism Without the State.

Seriously, the merit of your critics can be inferred from the fact that the mentally ill person who accuses you of being my follower is allied with the crypto-neocons at Samizdata who accuse you of being a Hoppean. Apparently the LA is something like the C. of E. as described by William F. Buckley: No one from the Pope to Chairman Mao can say with any degree of certainty that he is not a member.

Great work Sean

You'll go further without their dead-weight.

Maybe set up the Libertarian Alliance like the Nockian Society. No officers. No dues. No meetings.

Chris Tame was one smart fellow.

Open Mind Does Not Mean Support

To engage minds such as Hoppe and Carson is what an open-minded (i.e., liberal) libertarian would do, which is probably why Chris Tame named it the "Libertarian Alliance" instead of "A Peculiar Libertarian Sect With a Narrow Philosophy."

(Why aren't ALL libertarians open-minded? Why aren't they the most open-minded people in the world?)

I'm saddened by this blow-up. I always hoped that, should I get the opportunity to visit England, that it could attend a Libertarian Alliance event with all the food and drink.

Oh, well. Keep up the excellent writing and publications. By doing good work, the support will come.