Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet
Issue Number 148
14th June 2006

The Inaugural Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society:
An Incidental Record
by Sean Gabb

The Property and Freedom Society was set up in August 2005 by Hans-Hermann Hoppe. Its Opening Declaration reads as follows:

The Property and Freedom Society stands for an uncompromising intellectual radicalism: for justly acquired private property, freedom of contract, freedom of association—which logically implies the right to not associate with, or to "discriminate against," anyone in one's personal and business relations—and unconditional free trade. It condemns imperialism and militarism and their fomenters, and champions peace. It rejects positivism, relativism, and egalitarianism in any form, whether of "outcome" or "opportunity," and it has an outspoken distaste for politics and politicians. As such it seeks to avoid any association with the policies and proponents of interventionism, which Ludwig von Mises had identified in 1946 as the fatal flaw in the plan of the many earlier and contemporary attempts by intellectuals alarmed by the rising tide of socialism and totalitarianism to found an anti-socialist ideological movement. Mises wrote: "What these frightened intellectuals did not comprehend was that all those measures of government interference with business which they advocated are abortive...There is no middle way. Either the consumers are supreme or the government."

As culturally conservative libertarians, we are convinced that the process of de-civilization has again reached a crisis point and that it is our moral and intellectual duty to once again undertake a serious effort to rebuild a free, prosperous, and moral society. It is our emphatic belief that an approach embracing intransigent political radicalism is, in the long run, the surest path to our cherished goal of a regime of totally unfettered individual liberty and private property. In thus seeking a fresh and radical new beginning, we are heeding the old but frequently forgotten advice of Friedrich Hayek's: "We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage. What we lack is a liberal Utopia, a programme which seems neither a mere defence of things as they are nor a diluted kind of socialism, but a truly liberal radicalism which does not spare the susceptibilities of the mighty..., which is not too severely practical and which does not confine itself to what appears today as politically possible. We need intellectual leaders who are prepared to resist the blandishments of power and influence and who are willing to work for an ideal, however small may be the prospects of its early realization. They must be men who are willing to stick to principles and to fight for their full realization, however remote�..Unless we can make the philosophical foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects of freedom are indeed dark. But if we can regain that belief in the power of ideas which was the mark of liberalism at its best, the battle is not lost."

When I read it, this struck me as a fine declaration of intent. Here was a new international libertarian movement that promised not to descend into a clique of efficiency experts for the State, and not to accept the narrowing of the boundaries of debate that is the deal many libertarians strike with our politically correct masters. Even finer perhaps was that I was invited to attend and speak at the May 2006 inaugural meeting in Halicarnassus, otherwise known as Bodrum.

Except I once spent an hour on a runway in Constantinople, I had never visited Turkey, and I was interested to see the country. I was interested because, together with Athens, the Ionian coast was the cradle of our civilisation, and its ruins, I have always read, are a wonderful sight. In particular, Halicarnassus must always be of interest to the historian, as it is where Herodotus was born.

I was also interested because I grew up with a strong prejudice against the Turks. They were the leading representatives of The Other. They had nothing to do with the first explosion of Islam that took Syria, Egypt and North Africa from our civilisation. But they did, from the eleventh century, swallow up all that remained of the East Roman Empire. They took Constantinople. They took Greece. They got twice to the gates of Vienna. They were, until they declined and we progressed beyond all hope of competition, a continual standing threat to Christian Europe. Mention the Turks to me, and I tended to think of the Crusades and the siege of Constantinople, and the Battle of Lepanto, and John Sobieski. I thought of oriental despotism, and bottomless decadence, and Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail. As a European, I thought, and I shuddered.

And I shuddered because the Turks were a threat not in the sense that the Mongol Hordes or the Soviet Empire were threats. They were so threatening because what they had to offer was often so very attractive. They were relaxed in matters of nationality, and they were tolerant in religion. So long as the appropriate taxes were paid and respect given, they allowed each ethnic and religious group to govern itself. That last, heroic defence of Constantinople was undercut by the unwillingness of many Orthodox Christians to pay the cost of remaining in Christendom. I am not sure if the Western powers were able in the fifteenth century to give the effectual help the Byzantine Government was so desperate to obtain. What I do know is that the price of any support was too great for the Orthodox—involving as it did submission to Rome in all matters of doctrine. It was Lucas Notaras, the last Byzantine Grand Admiral, who said "Better the Sultan's turban than the Cardinal's hat".

Under the Turks, the Greek Church remained free to continue its own doctrinal evolution. The modern Greeks tend to emphasise how they suffered under the Turks. They say nothing of how they collaborated with the Turkish invaders against the Venetian rule of Crete. Even the fairly neutered Inquisition allowed by Venice was worse than some Pacha who cared nothing either way about the Filioque. Indeed, one reason why Hungary is the only country in Central Europe that has a large number of Protestants is that it was only recovered by the Hapsburgs from Turkish rule after religious persecution had begun to go out of fashion.

What ruined Turkey was partly the Scientific Revolution and the general miracle of Western Europe, and partly the defects of oriental despotism. Given a bright, energetic Sultan in Constantinople, the wealth and power of Turkey were at once a marvel and a terror to European travellers. But there was none of the constitutional order that sustained Byzantium until the end. Let a fool or a weakling rule in Constantinople, and all security for life and property was at an end.

I knew that the Turks had made an admirable recovery after losing the Great War. They had reformed their laws to imitate the West, and had made a determined—if neither right nor wise—attempt to impose an imitation of Western manners on the people. The Turks I had known in England were generally fine people. And for all my impassioned Hellenism, I had come to despise the modern Greeks—a shifty, disreputable people, like a beggar in the street holding up their often self-inflicted sores for pity. Their constant whining about the Elgin Marbles, and more recently about the Turkish revenge for what they did to the minority in Cyprus, disgusted me. They have turned Athens into a sewer, and seem to derive much of their national income from frauds on the European Union. In London, even the kebab shops are better when run by Turks. One day, I shall consider giving up what is now the affectation of using the Greek names for Turkish places.

But Turkey was The Other. I set out on my journey there with mixed feelings that I have only partly described above.

My first impression of the Turks was decidedly good. In Heathrow, as I was disrobing and feeding my hand luggage through the scanners that are supposed to protect us from terrorism, someone stole my wallet. Since this contained £300 in cash and all my credit cards, I was more than usually agitated. The security staff muttered into their radios and looked panicky, but showed no inclination to do anything for me. It was the Turks also queuing for the flight who jumped into action. Within a minute, they had caught the thief and recovered my wallet. Left to their own justice, they might have kept the lower class Englishman who had "mistakenly" acquired my property and beaten him to jelly. Instead, they handed him to the security people, who promptly let him continue his own journey.

However, for all their supposed thoroughness, the security checks in Heathrow overlooked a certain item I had forgotten was in my camera bag. This should have been apparent to the most casual glance at the scanners. But I managed to travel with it unchallenged all the way to Constantinople. There it was discovered. As the official there pulled it from my bag with a flourish and a twirl of his moustache that reminded me of Hercule Poirot, I nearly fainted with horror. I wondered how many years I might spend in a Turkish prison. Instead, the official took the item, filled out a form, got me to sign it, and sent me on my journey to Halicarnassus with detailed instructions on how to recover my property at the airport there.

As I came through security, I was met by a young lady who had my property for me in a paper bag. She got me to sign another form, then handed it over with a reminder that I should consider packing the item in my main luggage for the journey home.

So much for all that intrusive and expensive security. The only reason, it is clear, why no one hijacks aeroplanes out of Heathrow is that no one particularly wants to.

I could mention that the Turks mislaid my main luggage in Constantinople, and I had to wait for it to come down on the next flight. But these things happen everywhere, and I was filled during my fairly short wait with about a gallon of Turkish coffee while an old man in the airport security told me stories about his grandfather, who was a private soldier on the Ottoman side in the Gallipoli disaster. The only point of difference between us there was that he thought better of Winston Churchill than I did.

The drive down to Halicarnassus took about an hour and was of great interest. Looking out of the window of the special car sent to collect me, I could see the coastal terrain of Asia Minor. I had never realised how mountainous it was, and how relatively easy it must have been for the coastal cities to defend themselves against the larger continental powers inland. Otherwise, there was Don W. Printz, a retired dermatologist and longstanding friend of the Ludwig von Mises Institute. We spent much of the next week together, and our conversations on history, economics, syphilis—he used to be an expert on sexually transmitted diseases, in which I have some academic interest—and related matters, all began on that drive through the dramatic landscape.

Except it is prettier and more relaxed, Halicarnassus looks like any other resort on the Mediterranean coast. Whatever may be their race or religion or general manners, the various nations looking out from the shores of that remarkable sea all seem to possess a similar culture. And it is a most attractive culture—or so it is to an outsider—with its wine and salads and tobacco and relaxed view of life. In this, the coastal Turks are the same as the Spaniards, the Italians and the Greeks. I am told that travelling inland, past those mountain ranges, you will find a progressively alien world. But Halicarnassus might pass for a gentler, more tasteful Hagios Nikolaos. My only reminder of being outside Europe was that I was, for the first time since 1991, in a country where I could not understand the local language.

The conference was to be held in the Hotel Karia Princess. This is owned and run by Gulcin Imre, whose doctoral thesis was on the economics of Ludwig von Mises. The hotel is a splendid place—luxurious yet welcoming. Mrs Imre is fluent in both English and German, and has a good line in intellectual conversation. And I would say this even if she had not been kind enough to buy one of my books and praise it. Her Head of Public Relations, by the way, is a Slovak. A shame Mrs Gabb was unable to attend. She would have loved every minute.

What can I say of Professor Hoppe? Some call him the greatest libertarian philosopher of our age. Others shudder at the mention of his name. Many, I have no doubt, manage both. I had read and admired his book, Democracy: The God that Failed, and many of his articles. I like his general vision of a libertarianism made compatible with the conservatism of the English world— after all, what is libertarianism but a systematisation of the English Way? I am less convinced by the philosophical rationalism he shares with von Mises and others of the Austrian tradition in social thought. I am too immersed in—or perhaps was too early corrupted by—the thought of David Hume. But I found him a charming and tolerant leader of the Property and Freedom Society. And he is, like most foreigners who learn our language, one of the few people who can speak fluent, grammatical English. With a cigarette between his fingers—and they are dirt cheap over there—he is a first class raconteur.

I am aware that I ought now to move to a detailed account of the conference. It was a good one, and I particularly enjoyed the speeches of Paul Belien and Paul Gottfried. Even the short contributions of the panellists told me much of interest about property rights in other parts of the world and about the contributions, actual and potential, of religion to the institutions of civil society. I learnt that, in spite of all I read in the newspapers, Turkey can be expected to become a more truly liberal place for the return of Islam to its politics. But the surroundings were so overpowering, and the conversations over dinner and on the various trips were so interesting, that my enduring memories of the conference have been overlaid by these other things.

I have already mentioned Dr Printz, whom I look forward to seeing again. Then there was Paul Belien, there with his wife Alexandra Colen and two of their children. Dr Belien founded the Centre for the New Europe, which was until recently run by my friend and partner in the Libertarian Alliance Tim Evans. Dr Belien is a Flemish nationalist and his wife sits in the Belgian Parliament. Just before leaving Belgium, Dr Belien was hit with a major smear by the Establishment of the country. he had written the sort of article about the right to keep and bear arms for defence that I write every year or so. Where my articles in England simply get me on the wireless and into the newspapers, this got Dr Belien into potentially serious trouble. Some youth had got a gun and gone on a killing spree, and everyone in politics and the media had decided that Dr Belien was somehow to blame. He had been forced to take the article down from his website, and was now facing the threat of criminal proceedings. I listened to the story with incredulity. I thought England had gone rotten. I was not aware that Belgium was more rotten still. With its laws against free expression, and its systematic discrimination against its most enterprising nationality, the country hardly ranks as a liberal democracy. For what little it may be worth, Dr Belien has the full support of the Libertarian Alliance in defending his right to freedom of speech.

Then there was Paul Gottfried. His speech was a denunciation of the American conservative movement very similar in tone and content to my own of the Conservative Party. We agreed on loathing Tony Blair as a worthless and malevolent creature. Over lunch one day, he expressed a certain impatience with "victim nationalities". He mentioned as examples of these the Irish, the Greeks and Jews of East European origin. His admiration is for strong, self-confident peoples for whom past misfortunes are not the material for present obsessions. No wonder, he has little time for the modern English and Americans. He also gave me what seemed a penetrating insight into the mentality of the Jewish neoconservatives in Washington. I was wrong, he told me, in thinking that these people had any dislike of Islam. They actually felt closer in their general outlook to Moslems than to the Christian Zionists, who are the real authors of the catastrophe that is American policy in the Middle East. The latter they regarded, he said, as "stupid gentiles". Their one point of difference with the former was the existence of Israel. Let that be settled, and the serpentising televangelists might continue baying for a nuclear Armageddon followed by the Second Coming. But the flow of coherent Islamophobia would be turned off like a redundant bath tap.

Then there was Stephan Kinsella, who subjected me during a boat trip around the Ionian coast to a friendly but probing examination of what I thought about Ayn Rand and epistemology. I am not sure if he approved of all I gave in answer. Even so, the surrounding conversation was enjoyable. He was scathing about Objectivism. He noted that David Kelley is an improvement on the official movement. "But when someone has to write 15,000 words on why it is permissible to be nice to others, or to tolerate disagreement" he said, "there must be something wrong with his underlying philosophy".

Then there were all the old friends who were also there—Frank van Dunn, Christian Michel, Josef Šima, Robert Grözinger, and others. But I will not give a full list: it would be the whole conference programme. I say this even though Christian gave one of his most polished and elaborate speeches. I hope he will publish it, as I can recall only its main heads.

Nor will I say much about my own speech. It was my usual idle effort. Until five minutes before I was due to start, I had no idea how to start. Once I had started, I had little idea how to continue. As ever, despite the uncertainty, I kept up a logical flow and finished on time. What I said went down well, and I suppose it was fair enough. One of these days, I am assured, my reliance on inspiration will fail me. I shall stand up, my mouth will open, but nothing coherent will come out. Fortunately, that did not happen in Turkey.

Professor Hoppe gave the closing speech. He explained that he had started a movement that would meet every year, and that would push the libertarian movement towards the open discussion of issues presently thought too controversial to discuss. Obviously, there is the question of border control: is this another statist intervention as harmful as price control? or would the movement of peoples be so free of internal cost in a world without states as it now generally is? Then there are the revisionist histories of the Great War: even today, nearly everyone looks at the events of 1914 as if it were still 1945. Or there is Hitler's War. How monolithic was his dictatorship? How much was its more notable beastliness personal to him and a few colleagues? Would that beastliness have survived him had he lasted until about 1950? Might it have been restrained had there not been that war of attrition with Soviet Russia? Then there is so much about contemporary politics and economics and sociology and religion that is worth discussing in places where the Thought Police do not operate, or where they have other concerns.

After this, there was the boat trip already mentioned. I was told the Aegean was cold in May. But I am a strong Northerner, accustomed to walking out of my house in summer to swim in the English Channel. I threw myself bravely into the clear waters. It took only a week to recover from the sunburn. In the evening, we had the belly dancers. I have a video record of Professor Gottfried dancing along topless. I have none of me. I remained fully clothed—but, having no notes to give her,  fumbled most embarrassingly to fit £7 in change into the dancer's bra.

That is all I will say. The next conference will be in Halicarnassus next May. I hope for another invite. I enjoyed this one, and I regret not being able to visit the ruins of Ephesus or spend time in Constantinople. If you are interested in attending, or in supporting the work of the Property and Freedom Society, you should contact Professor Hoppe—and do so quickly, as the conference is already being planned.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the
Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 160
21st June 2007

The Second Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society,
Bodrum, May 2007:
A Brief Record
by Sean Gabb

When I came back last year from the inaugural meeting in Turkey of the The Property and Freedom Society, I was unable to imagine how the next could be better. Everything about that meeting—the hotel, the location, the speeches, the new friendships—was as near perfect as could be. How, then, could the next one be better? It was set for the same place, between the 24th and 28th May 2007.

The answer is that it managed to be better by being much the same, plus a little extra. The Hotel Karia Princess was as wonderful as before—and I do most strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to visit the Aegean coast of Turkey. My opinion of the Turks is, if possible, higher still than it was last year. I then compared them with the Greeks. I had yet to discover the Sicilians, about whom I cannot speak truly without risking imprisonment under the Public Order Act.

I will speak later about my impressions of Ephesus and Constantinople. But I gave my general thoughts last year on Turkey, and so will not repeat them here

I turn then to the conference proceedings. Remember that the Property and Freedom Society was set up by Hans-Hermann Hoppe for the uncompromising promotion of libertarian values—that is, a promotion that is not to be moderated by any considerations of what the ruling classes of the West consider to be appropriate. Last year, what was said was so interesting that several ordinary guests in the hotel booked their next holiday to coincide with the next meeting. I do not think they were disappointed. Let me summarise those speeches which I recorded on video or of which I took written notes.

Friday 25th May 2007

First were Richard Lynn, on "The Global Bell Curve" and Tatu Vanhanen on "IQ and the Wealth of Nations". Though these gave different speeches, both were on the same theme, and both speakers drew from the book they have written together, IQ and Global Inequality. They explained that one of the main indicators of economic success for a nation—assuming reasonably sane government—is IQ; that it is possible to construct a scatter diagram to show the stability of this relationship; that IQ is largely inherited and fully innate; that IQ is different between countries and different between the temperate and equatorial regions of our planet; and that IQ averages in the former regions may be depressed by migration from the latter.

They dismissed cultural differences between groups and social inequalities. These, they insisted, did not explain differences of income so fully or so simply as differences of IQ.

These are controversial claims, and they provoked a long discussion from the floor. At the end, Professor Hoppe made a number of points which are worth summarising;

First, these are claims about matters of fact. As such, they ought to be subject to the same reasoned discussion as any other set of evidential claims.

Second, if they are true, they have no bearing on the core values of libertarianism. Just because some groups may not be of equal average intelligence or other ability does not mean that any individual should have other than equal rights to life, liberty and property.

Third, a free society based on the division of labour has room for all levels of intelligence and other ability.

The next main speakers were Yuri Maltsev and Paul Gottfried. Professor Maltsev spoke about "The Quest for Equality and the Poverty of Nations", and showed that those nations in which equality of outcome has been most strenuously pursued are the poorest and least equal places on earth. Professor Gottfried asked "Can We Defeat the Disease of Egalitarianism?" I did not record his speech, but I did record an interview with him that is now available on the Internet. In this, he gives a characteristically radical answer.

That was the end of the first day of proceedings. We moved to a long and enjoyable dinner in the gardens of the Hotel.

Saturday 26th May 2007

The first session on Saturday included: Peter Mentzel on "The Ottoman Empire: How Sick Was the Sick Man of Europe?"; William Marina on "A Desert Without Thaw: US—Iran Relations 1944-Present"; and Hunt Tooley on "Divide, Rule, Manipulate: Western Strategies for the Middle East in the Period between the World Wars".

These were all fascinating speeches, and I wish I had recorded them on video. I learnt that the Ottoman Empire was actually dong rather well by all normal indicators until 1914, and that it managed to outlive the Tsarist Government that had coined the "Sick Man" epithet. From Professor Marina, I most recall his revelation that the Persians will, within the next generation, become a minority in Iran, and that there is, in obvious consequence, a natural basis for a settlement of all differences with the western powers.

Next came Thomas DiLorenzo on "The American Myth of Limited Constitutional Government" and Marco Bassani on "Empire or Liberty: The Anti-Federalist Alternative". These took sceptical views of American politics in the 1780s, and showed how failings in the framing of the American Constitution gradually defeated the stated purpose of the War of Independence.

Next was Paul Belien on "Secessionism in Europe". This included a trenchant attack on Scottish nationalism, which Dr Belien declared has less to do with creating an independent Scotland than with breaking up a Eurosceptical United Kingdom.

Then came I. When Professor Hoppe asked me for a title last year, I did suggest "Demography and History". I then changed my mind, and thought it would be more interesting to speak about the possibly libertarian implications of the global warming hysteria. But I found the title on the agenda when I arrived, and Mrs Gabb told me it would be rude to make changes so late in the day.

I therefore spoke about the demographic changes in the Eastern Mediterranean world of the sixth and seventh centuries—how these had been caused by a pandemic as great as the Black Death, and how they led to the collapse of ancient civilisation and the Arab conquest of Syria, Egypt and North Africa. I have uploaded the video of this speech to the Internet, and so will say no more about it.

So ended the second day of proceedings. In the evening, we all went off for dinner in the fishing village of Kadikalesi. We sat on the beach until long after sunset, eating fish and drinking various wines and spirits.

Sunday 27th May 2007

The first speaker on Sunday was Christian Michel, who is, among much else, the Director of European Affairs for the Libertarian Alliance. He spoke about "The Neuroses of Science and State". Christian speaks the best English of any Frenchman I have met. Indeed, he speaks better English than most Englishmen. And this was a characteristically polished and elliptical speech on how state control and state finance of research corrupts knowledge. I am sure the text will soon be available through the Libertarian Alliance.

Then came Edward Stringham, asking "If Anarcho-Capitalism is so Great, Why doesn't it Exist?" and Dan Stastny on "The Economics of Economics".

After this came Professor Hoppe with a long and very interesting paper on "The Origins of Private Property and the Family". This is hard to summarise. But it seeks to explain the emergence of both property and the family as responses to population growth. It is only when individuals are able to own property that new resources are created. It is only when individuals are held responsible for the maintenance of their children that population does not grow beyond the constraint of the resources presently available.

Mrs Gabb drew a number of highly conservative inferences from the speech. But as the speech has now been published in full by the Libertarian Alliance, I will not mention these now.

Then came Juliusz Jablecki, commenting on "Libertarian Strategy in the Post-Modernist Age", and Olivier Richard, making "A Note on Libertarian Strategy". Mr Jablecki spoke about the feasibility of using the language of post-modernism against the post-modernists, and this led to an entertaining argument with Paul Gottfried. Dr Richard spoke about the need to reach out to groups not currently regarded as libertarian, but who may be favourable to a reduction in state control over their lives.

And that was it for 2007. We spent the evening in the Hotel for a dinner that included belly dancing and a carpet sale.

General Reflections

The fact that these conferences are so enormously pleasant as a social experience does not blind me to their merits considered as conferences. The libertarian movement is hardly on the edge of collapse. Even with its minimal funding, the Libertarian Alliance is going though one of its more energetic periods. There are libertarian movements in almost every civilised country—and in many uncivilised countries.

But there is often a feeling of staleness about libertarian arguments. I am not dismissing our frequent concentration on economic issues. Whatever anyone may claim, we have not won the arguments on economics. We are as heavily taxed as ever—and more heavily regulated than in the 1960s and 1970s. But the nature of the statist enemy has changed in the past few decades. It has learnt to combine some degree of economic rationality with new modes of oppression and new modes of justification. I do not feel that we have, as a movement, come adequately to terms with these changes.

I believe that there is still good work to be done in building alliances with some sexual and other minorities and with many people who regard themselves as on the "left" of politics. At the same time, there is much common ground with intelligent conservatives like Paul Belien and Paul Gottfried. They are not libertarians, but they do have insights into the nature of the new order of things from which we can all benefit.

The value of the Property and Freedom Society is that it provides an institutional framework within which differences can be discussed and areas of agreement explored. The intention is that its annual meeting should become better every time. This does not necessarily mean bigger: it means better and more exclusive. Invitations should become an essential mark of acceptance to everyone who is anyone in our movement.

Therefore, I do most warmly commend the work of Professor Hoppe and of his colleagues in the Property and Freedom Society. Anyone who is interested to learn more about this work should contact Professor Hoppe directly. He is already planning the next meeting in Turkey for the May of 2008, and is looking for additional participants.

Other Activities

This year, Mrs Gabb went with me to Turkey, and she enjoyed herself as much as I did. We spent much of our free time wandering around Bodrum and looking in the shops.

We also hired a car and drove several hundred miles along the Aegean coastline, looking at Ephesus, Miletus, Magnesia, and other famous but now ruined cities of the ancient world.

Most importantly, though, we spent two days in Constantinople—the Second Rome. My new, and so far unpublished, novel is set here in the year 610. It has barbarian raids, chariot races, political intrigue, murder and civil war woven into the plot. But the place where all this happens is the great City of Constantine.

In writing the novel, I relied much on reconstructed maps of the mediaeval city and of descriptions by modern historians. I knew that the old maps were unreliable, due to more than a thousand years of continuous redevelopment. But our first walk through the City told me I needed to rewrite many parts of the novel. I had not realised the immense scale of the City within the Walls of Theodosius. It is bigger than Westminster and the City of London combined. It can take hours to cross from one side to the other.

Then there are the hills. I had somehow imagined the City as more or less flat. The centre, however, is on a plateau that rises to several hundred feet above sea level. You can look out from the windows of the Hagia Sophia Church and look down to the Golden Horn and the Bosporus. I shall have much fun rewriting the relevant parts of the novel.

The modern City is also impressive. We did all the usual sights—the Blue Mosque, the Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar, and so on.

Perhaps most interesting, though, was that we arrived in the City on the 29th May. After a day of walking from place to place, Mrs Gabb and I sat down in the wide space that used to contain the Hippodrome and were busy discussing where we should have dinner. At once, there was the crash of Turkish military music—the sort that Mozart was good at mimicking. We got up and pushed through the large crowd that had formed. Along the street towards us about twenty men dressed as Janissaries were marching. As they passed, the crowd let up a cheer and joined in a procession.

Someone gave me a Turkish flag and waved me into the procession. Mrs Gabb suggested that this might be one of the civil disturbances we had been warned about on the television. But everyone looked very cheerful, and I wanted to know what was happening.

We marched along until we reached a square with a stage and seating set up. The Janissaries and the band went onto the stage, and everyone else crowded into the seats or stood around.

Someone dressed very smartly got up and began a long speech in Turkish. I understood none of this, but turned to look at the banners that had been draped around the square. I read the words "Istanbul Fetih 554 yili Konseri". I know that Fetih is "victory" in many oriental languages, and that konseri must mean "concert". The "554" told me, though, what was happening. This was the 29th May. On that day in 1453, the City was taken from the Greeks.

As I am rather pro-Byzantine, I felt wicked to have taken part—even unwittingly— in a celebration of so notable a disaster. On the other hand, I was smitten with admiration for the Turks. In England, we just about manage to celebrate historical events since 1940. Anything earlier tends to be officially discouraged or ignored. Here, though, the Turks were in full patriotic glow about the fall of the Eastern Empire. And, if regrettable, it was a splendid achievement. Unlike the Crusaders, who simply burnt and looted and killed, the Turkish conquerors rebuilt the City in magnificent style and made it once again the capital of a great empire.

I did as Mrs Gabb said, and put the flag away, but we both stood listening to the concert until darkness and hunger drove us in search of food. I managed to shoot some interesting if disorganised video footage of the event.

We will go back to the City. But that will be another article.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment

published on the Internet
Issue Number 47
22nd January 2001

How to Destroy the Enemy Class:
A Manifesto for the Right
Sean Gabb

The purpose of this manifesto is to discuss how England might be taken over and indefinitely held by the political right.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 83
9th December 2002

In Defence of the Monarchy
Sean Gabb

When with my family and friends I celebrated her Majesty's golden jubilee last June, I thought that republicanism had been crushed as other than a marginal force for another generation. Over a million people had gathered in the Mall to cheer her—many of them young people, and many from the ethnic minorities. For a few days, all the silly chatter about inclusiveness and diversity became about as real as it possibly could, but became real in a cause that the loudest and silliest of the chatterers regarded with shame and annoyance. Now, sadly, the republicans are back with their levelling agenda. I do not think we shall ever know the truth concerning the former servant of the Princess of Wales who started the present round of scandals. But the lurid claims of warnings from the Queen, of homosexual rape in the royal household, and of the general conduct of the royal family, are highly damaging regardless of their truth—and have been taken up by the republicans in the media and used to cause the greatest damage possible. Of course, the Monarchy will survive these scandals. They may be used, however, to justify a weakening of its institutional powers, and so will contribute to its decline over the long term.

I know that many of my readers live under republican forms of government, and that many of my British readers have no settled affection for our own monarchical constitution. But I am myself a committed monarchist, and will take this opportunity to explain why.

The first argument is from antiquity. Queen Elizabeth II is descended from the kings of the Germanic barbarians who invaded the Roman province of Britain after the year 410 AD. At first, these barbarians were divided among many tribes, each with its one king. As the centuries passed, however, what is now England was gradually brought under the rule of one royal family; and Alfred the Great (d. 901) is normally regarded as the first King of England.

With the exception of the rather strange period between 1649 and 1660, when the country was first a republic and then a military dictatorship, England has always been a Monarchy. And the monarchs have been members of one family. Her present Majesty is descended from the family of Alfred the Great, just as he in turn was descended from the chieftains who led their warriors and their families out of the great forests that once overspread northern Europe. There have been changes in the order of succession—in 1485, in 1603, in 1688, in 1714, and in 1936—but the crown has not passed outside that family during the past 1,500 years.

Antiquity, I grant, is not in itself a defence of anything. But antiquity does raise a presumption in its favour. Unless a particular thing can be shown to produce great and easily avoidable harm, its age does serve as a defence. The burden of proof, therefore, lies against the republicans. Before they can be allowed to have their way, they must prove beyond reasonable doubt that Monarchy is for us a harmful institution.

One claim I often hear is that we are in this country not citizens with inalienable rights, but subjects with revokable privileges. An argument consequent on this is that the Monarchy is a survival from the time before the middle-class revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. It is a symbol of a traditional order in which status is possessed on the basis not of ability but of birth. It is even claimed that it is because of the social prestige of the Monarchy that this country lost its commercial lead at the end of the 19th century—that the first generations of capitalist factory owners were replaced by sons who had come to believe that high social status was best achieved through the professions and politics, and that industry was something for the lower classes to bother about.

The reply is simple. The language of obedience and the ceremonial that attends royal occasions may support this claim. However, in a constitution like ours, which was not made, but has evolved over many centuries, the dictionary meaning of words is far less important than the things they actually describe. During the past few hundred years, all of the European monarchies have been either abolished or remodelled out of ancient recognition. Are the "citizens" of those countries notably more free than English "subjects"? The obvious answer is no. We pay lower taxes than in most of these countries. We enjoy generally greater freedom of enterprise. In the writ of habeas corpus, and in trial by jury according to common law rules of justice, we enjoy greater protections of life, liberty and property. Unlike in most of Europe, I can take action against the authorities in the ordinary civil courts: where we have administrative tribunals, there is always appeal to the ordinary courts. Assuming I want to, I can read books and make statements that in much of Europe would get me into serious trouble. During the past century, there have been repeated floods of European immigrants into this country. They have come here to live in a country where they are not bled absolutely white in taxes, and where they do not need to fear a 3:00am knock on the door by the authorities. Except by those who want to live in a better climate, and who have the money to ignore local oppressions, I have not seen much movement in the opposite direction. Better to be a subject in England than a citizen in France. Just ask all those emigres who have settled here since 1789—and we can ask the 300,000 who currently have taken advantage of the European Union rules on labour mobility to come and work here. Having a Monarchy did not stop us from having the first and therefore the most important industrial revolution. It has not stopped London from remaining one of the great financial centres of the world—a financial centre where more people work than live in Frankfurt, whish is the next largest financial centre in the European Union.

If we are less free today than a century or even a generation ago, this is not because we have a Monarchy. It is because the representative elements of our constitution have decayed. It may have been Her Majesty last month, speaking to Parliament, who announced the planned abolition of the double jeopardy rule, and the lifting of the bar on similar fact evidence, and the limitation of the right to trial by jury. But she was reading words written for her by others - these others being a pack of unprincipled technocrats obsessed with meeting targets on the suppression of crime, regardless of due process, and regardless of whether the targets can be met by way of the means suggested. It is the people we are supposed to represent us who are making us less free, not the person whom the coins proclaim our monarch by the grace of God. If we have a problem, it is not too few elected politicians: it is too many bad ones.

Another claim is that the Monarchy is a visible symbol of inequality—a barrier to an ideal society in which everyone will be equal in status, and in which everyone will have the right, if not the ability, to rise to the highest position. It is a knife pointing at the heart of democracy. This may sound a persuasive claim. Historically, though, attempts to create such societies have usually gone far beyond abolishing a Monarchy—they have ended with attacks on anyone with a nice house and money in the bank, or on anyone with a good coat on his back. Those who hate the Queen for her jewels and palaces generally have no time either for the middle classes.

But all this is only a negative reply to the republicans. It demands proof of harm done by having a Monarchy, and then rejects all alleged proofs. The Monarchy is not simply an ancient institution that is harmless and that ought therefore to be left alone. There is a positive argument. Not only has the Monarchy done us no harm: it has done much good.

England is the only country in the world that has for the past three hundred years not had a revolution, a civil war, a military dictatorship, a foreign invasion, or any other serious breakdown of constitutional order. It has throughout this time maintained high levels of political and economic freedom. There is no other country in all history that has been so reliably free and stable for so long. This may have something to do with our geographical position—though this did not bring much stability before about 1700. It may have something to do with our racial characteristics—though the Americans who fought the War between the States were generally of the same stock, and still managed an awful bloodletting. There may be any number of other reasons, or combinations of reasons. But one highly probable contributing cause is our constitution. For the past few centuries, we have had a Monarchy with all the prestige of ancient legitimacy, combined with actual government by elected politicians. The character of the Monarch has therefore been fairly unimportant, but no politician has been able to scheme or shoot his way into that first position. We have a situation where the politicians have most of the power, but the Monarch has all the authority.

This is not a division of power that exists in the written constitutions of the other countries. Certainly, it was not noticed by foreign observers such as Montequieu and de Lolme in the 18th century. It is, even so, a division of powers that seem so far to have been more successful than the formal divisions of executive, legislature and judiciary with which constitutional lawyers are more familiar. It is not a defect of the Monarchy that the top position is closed to merit. It is one of the highest benefits. We cannot be certain that replacing the Monarchy with a presidential republic would preserve anything like this division. It might well be that to get rid of the Monarchy would take Britain into the kind of political instability that is currently unimaginable.

This brings us to the third line of defence—which is our ignorance of what would happen if we tried to replace the Monarchy.

Contrary to all the imaginings of the utopian philosophers, we are fundamentally not rational beings. We cannot be perfected. We cannot be made fit for a social order based wholly on light and reason. Certainly, the modes of thought and social organisation that developed chiefly in England, and have since spread in stages throughout the world, can usually be given a powerful abstract justification. But the success—indeed, the continued existence—of these modes owes nothing to rational deliberation, and everything to an often unconscious habit. To abolish, or even to try altering these habits is to risk our enjoyment of the benefits that proceed from them. Anyone who thinks otherwise falls into an error readily demonstrable from the history of the past two centuries. Anyone who proceeds from thought to action commits acts that range from the absurd to the catastrophically monstrous.

When, therefore, we come to an examine a functioning social order such as our own, our most proper attitude is one of curiosity mingled with reverence. We are not to seize on its apparent faults and reject it in favour of something else spun out of a single head. Nor, as has been most often done this century in those countries lucky enough to avoid a total reconstruction, are we to advocate sweeping reforms simply on the grounds of "modernisation" or of bringing something "into the twenty first century". We must instead try to understand the inner workings of society—to conjecture by what innumerable and infinitesimal stages the present order of things evolved to its present sophistication. This will require us to look even to those habits and institutions that rest on justifications manifestly absurd, asking whether they might not nevertheless serve a useful purpose. Then, and only then, shall we be ready to consider what deliberate changes may be necessary, and how these may best be combined with what already is. The best change is so cautious and incremental that only those directly affected notice its happening. Even the most radical, sudden change is best achieved so that within only a few years it becomes difficult to tell the old from the new.

According to this argument, then, it is wrong to look at the Monarchy as if it stood alone. It might be wrong to see the Monarchy as a direct guarantor of political stability. Nevertheless, it might contribute to that stability in some way that no one has yet discovered.

Some monarchists I have spoken to over the past year have expressed a strong dissatisfaction with the Queen. Disliking the present Government's European policy, they have petitioned Her Majesty for the redress of grievances, using the procedure laid down in the Magna Carta of 1215. So far, they have received no proper answer. From this, they have concluded that the Monarchy is as weak and indeed rotten a support as any other branch of the Constitution. This is a mistaken view. It proceeds from the same confusion of law and constitutional practice as the republicans usually make.

The legal powers of the Monarchy are theoretically immense. They have not been reduced by law since 1660, and then were not fundamentally touched. Formally, the Queen is the Head of State, Head of the Church of England, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. In theory, she is also the owner of all the land in England and Wales —a survival of the feudal tenures introduced by William I in 1066. All legal acts are done in her name; and in theory, she is present in every courtroom in the country. Her head appears on every British postage stamp and on every British coin and banknote. We tend to despise those foreign countries where national flags or even pictures of "El Presidente" are everywhere. But images of our Queen are in every pocket and on every letter posted. If she so wished, she could dismiss Tony Blair tomorrow and set me in his place. She could dissolve Parliament to save me the trouble of facing it. She could declare war on France, and sign a treaty giving Gibraltar to Spain. In reality, she can do none of these things. Her inability to raise taxes in her own name would eventually force her to recall Parliament, just as Charles I was forced. But long before reaching this position, it would have been necessary for her to break through the web of custom that, during the past three centuries, has overlain the law. Her actions might be strictly legal: they would not be at all constitutional.

There might be circumstances in which she needed to use her full legal powers in defence of the whole Constitution, and she might then break various conventions without any loss of authority. But the arguments over the Treaty of Nice—bad as it might be—do not justify formal royal intervention. She would not have public opinion sufficiently on her side—and that, whatever the wording of constitutional documents might say—is the real source of power and authority.

This being said, I do believe that the Queen is aware of how dangerously bad this Government is, and that she is at war with it. But the weapons practically available to her are not those available to Queen Anne when she decided to rid herself of the Whigs. The weapons now are symbolism and ceremonial obstruction.

We saw these most obviously in use earlier this year. We have a government and a controlled media insisting that we are no longer what our ancestors were, and that our only future lies in the new country called Europe. This message received a flat contradiction when the Queen Mother was buried—an event acting as powerfully on the English imagination as a half-forgotten bugle call on an old soldier. The countless millions of unrepresented conservatives in this country were suddenly faced with the old music and words and ceremony, and the effect was often overpowering. It was like waking from a nightmare and looking at the familiar things around the bedroom. That is why New Labour and the BBC were so upset and even frightened by the public reaction. Unlike the amateurs and fools who run the Conservative Party, these people fully understand the power of symbolism, and they appreciated the strength of the reverse to their project of national deconstruction. They were equally upset by the success of the Jubilee celebrations. They could see what they had long regarded as the withered husk of the Monarchy taking on new life with every outpouring of popular support. This recovered strength would not be used to defeat them in open battle. Instead, it would be an inspiring force for others. The ancient Jews would carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them. Whether it brought the divine blessing on their arms may be doubted. Undoubtedly, though, it gave them a visible symbol of all they were fighting for. That is the real modern power of the Monarchy. And this, I suspect, is the reason why these scandals are being so emphasised in the media. They weaken the Monarchy in the place in which it needs to be strongest.

Now, what we are fighting for is obvious. We want personal freedom and national independence. Is that why Her Majesty is now at war on our side? I like to think so. But it may just be self-preservation. In the past hundred years, the Monarchy has accommodated itself to great and surprising changes. George V decided not to stand by the landed aristocracy, and so avoided its fate. George VI made no complaints about losing his imperial title. Her present Majesty managed very well in the first half of her reign as head of state in a mixed economy welfare state. But none of these changes threatened the survival of the Monarchy as an institution. The older Labour politicians—Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan—had no desire to overthrow the Constitution or even to remodel it. I am not even sure how serious were their more radical followers. The present Labour leaders, though, are republicans. They are not, of course, republicans in the tradition of Tom Paine or even of Tony Benn—who wanted what they thought a fair and rational deal for all the people of the country. Instead, they have a vision of a New World Order society in which there is no room for things like monarchy or any other pattern of habitual loyalty that they cannot themselves control. Their republic is not one of annual parliaments and village democracy: it is one in which the rulers of many countries combine to exercise absolute and unaccountable power over an atomised—and perhaps before long, a genetically modified—peasantry.

I think the Queen realises this. I believe that she takes her coronation oath seriously, and that she does regret the police state that her Minsters are building for us. But I am convinced that she sees the danger to her own position and that of her children. This puts her on our side—even if she stands on our side only "objectively", to use the old Marxist jargon.

On this last point, I would commend the Monarchy even to those of my friends who are committed republicans. Perhaps their ideal republic is a better form of government than our monarchical constitution. But this ideal republic is not presently on offer. Until it can be on offer, therefore, I would advise them to take a lesson from the Australian voters of a few years ago. Presented with a choice between a monarchy for which they had little strong affection and a republic designed wholly with the interests of the politicians in mind, they chose to keep the Monarchy.

And so, for all these reasons, and for others that I may have forgotten, I ask all my readers—monarchists and republicans, libertarians and conservatives, and even the more thoughtful socialists who want a better world than New Labour has in mind for us—to join in wishing Her Majesty a happy Christmas and a long and productive reign in the years still to come.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 98
7th April 2003

Why Tony Blair Must be Destroyed:
A Conservative Case
by Sean Gabb

The Friday before this war started, I had dinner with some friends, where I was forced to defend my bitter dislike of Tony Blair. At the moment, nothing could be easier. The front page of my newspaper today carries one of the most disgusting photographs I have ever seen. It is of Ali Ismael Abbas, a 12 year old boy in Baghdad who had his arms blown off in a rocket attack at the weekend. His lower body appears to have been burned all over, and the smile on his face is probably the effect of the opiate he was given to block the pain. The rocket that did this may have been fired by the Americans - or even, though I doubt if they now have the means, by the Iraqis. But thanks to Mr Blair, we share in the corporate responsibility. Because of his joining us in the "coalition of the willing", it is partly in our name that this boy has had his life destroyed. Killing and maiming are always bad. I doubt at present if they can ever be right. Certainly, unless absolutely necessary, they are wrong. For me, that is reason enough for the most envenomed hatred.

However, the question was asked of me before the war started, when my opinion of Mr Blair was already fixed. This beastly war aside, what do I so dislike about him?

I will begin by conceding that my usual complaints about his domestic policies do not in themselves justify such positive loathing. Yes, he has integrated this country further into the European Union since he came to power. Yes, his other domestic policies have been directed to the creation of a sinister police state. He has done all this and is to be blamed for it. Even so, is there anyone to replace him who would not have done, or would not continue to do, very much the same?

Forget their claims, unconvincing as they are. The Conservatives are just as committed in reality to the European project. They got us into it, and have said nothing to indicate they would get us out. If possible, they are even more committed to the American alliance than Labour. Indeed, I suspect they would have us pressing on with the Americans to Damascus and Teheran, whereas many of the present Ministers seem to want this horror over for us as quickly as the soldiers can be marched out of Basra.

As for all the police state laws, these the Conservatives have failed efficiently to oppose during the past six years, or have even supported. Nor let it be forgotten that it was the Conservatives who began to demolish the Constitution when they were last in power. Can we hope for any better from them? I rather think not.

How, then, about the most likely Labour replacements of Mr Blair - Gordon Brown and David Blunkett? Would they be any better? Again, not. Mr Blunkett is hard at work outdoing both Michael Howard and Jack Straw in the attack on due process. Mr Brown might be slightly less friendly to European integration, but this cannot be taken for granted; and he seems to lack Mr Blair's belief in the marketising of public services, which is about his only worthwhile achievement.

So why hate the man? What is there to justify wanting him replaced by people who might only differ for the worst, if they differed at all?

The answer is that Mr Blair is so bad because he is so effective in the work of destruction. Let us compare England with America. The United States has a written constitution. Plainly, this has not preserved American freedom so well as its framers hoped. But at least it draws a visible boundary between what is constitutional and what is not. Everyone can see when a law crosses that boundary; and its clear wording provides a point around which libertarians and conservatives can rally—and can sometimes rally with success. Our own constitution is different. Though it has restrained power for longer than any other, it is not written. We have fundamental laws, but they are not easily perceived, and their breach is hardly ever obvious to those without a detailed legal and historical understanding.

We are free in this country because freedom is part of our constitution as conceived in the wider, old-fashioned sense of the word. It resides in our habits of thought and action. Now, this sort of constitution derives its stability not from the wording of a written document, but from a mass of conservative prejudice. Freedom is generally an administrative inconvenience. It stands in the way of privilege for wealthy business interests. The lack of detailed policing that it requires gives offence to the various moral entrepreneurs who make their way into politics and the media. Considered alone, trial by jury is an expensive and often inaccurate means of deciding guilt. Freedom of the press allows people to say hateful things. Unlike any specific disadvantages, their benefits are hardly ever understood by the mass of people. What keeps them, and all the other freedoms and protections of freedom, reasonably safe is that they are parts of an ancient and general order of things. They are legitimised in the main less by their rightness than by the appearance that they have always existed in this country.

There can be no doubt of the many benefits that have flowed over the centuries from our Constitution. Those Americans who dismiss it as a fraud should bear in mind that their own is barely a quarter as old, and that it is already falling apart. Even so, it is peculiarly open to attack at the margins. The restraints in power in this country are largely customary. They derive their force form the fact that they exist within a web of associations that tie the present to the past. Let these associations be removed, and with them will go the old restraints on power.

That is, for example, why compulsory metrication is so objectionable. Metres are more rational than yards, and probably more useful for most purposes. Compulsion aside, it is the break with the past that is objectionable—especially when the benefits, though undeniable, are not that great. It is the same with renaming writs as claim forms and bailiffs as enforcement agents, with changing the old forms of public address, with rearranging museum displays to make the English past shameful or incomprehensible, and with much more. Individually, these changes may be of no importance. It is their conjunction that is important. Let there be a sufficient conjunction of changes, and the setting within which freedom resides is destroyed. Disconnected from the web of associations in which they have come down to us, valuable protections like trial by jury and habeas corpus can be presented as more rubbish form the past to be cleared away—especially when they can be presented as hindrances to a cheaper and more efficient system of criminal justice. Unlike in America, where the Constitution must first be abolished or plainly turned on its head, we can be led into tyranny along a route where every step can be presented as of no great consequence, and where objectors can be dismissed as pedants or cranks. As Lord Eldon said against the claims for parliamentary reform—and, I am now inclined to think, rightly—"Touch one atom, and the whole is lost".

What makes Mr Blair so dangerous is that he has been able, as no other politician could, to combine systematic destruction of the old order of things with reasonable economic policies in the short term, and to persuade large numbers of people for most of the time that his is not a very radical government. It is a radical government at the cultural level, but his genius has been to conceal this. I had lunch last month with a highly intelligent friend from my university days who announced as if it were an incontestable truth that "Tony Blair is the best Tory Prime Minister this country has ever had". Not so. He is the least Tory. His most honest statement of intent was his speech to the 1999 Labour Conference, in which he attacked "the forces of conservatism". It was so honest that it was soon removed from the Labour Party website. One of my friends at dinner the other week tried to claim that this was really an attack on resistance to change within the public sector. But he is wrong. I looked out the speech on The Guardian website - http://www.guardian.co.uk/lab99/Story/0,2763,202189,00.html. It is a manifesto for destroying every ancient association, so that any conservative defence of freedom—and this is the best one we have, I repeat—becomes impossible. The New Labour project has little to do with overturning the economic settlement imposed by Margaret Thatcher. It is, much rather, a cultural revolution. But his charm—his ability to make radicalism look other than it is—has cast almost a magic spell over much of the English middle class.

That is why I so long for his destruction. No one else in politics would be so able to do what he has done. Take him away, and the spell would be at least weakened. The problem of who should replace him is not, on this analysis, a problem. Anyone will do. Gordon Brown might be more socialist in his economic policies—but he would not so easily seduce the middle class formers of opinion. Iain Duncan Smith might be even less friendly to our remaining civil liberties. Anyone else might be worse is some other respect. But there is no one else in British politics with the same lethal blend of qualities to hide the work of destruction, or to make it seem an improvement on the past.

Of course, the war may have changed this. It has wiped that boyish smile from Mr Blair's face. He has aged ten years in the past six months, and the result is not pretty. From now on, his every appearance in public will be attended by passionate demonstrations. Combine this with the unconcealable effects of his economic policies, and he may have lost his hold over the national mind. Until last year, perhaps, he could be compared to the Lloyd George of 1910—the man of the people standing up to the forces of conservatism. He may now be compared to the Lloyd George of 1922—the dangerous adventurer surrounding himself with all that is corrupt and all that blocks the way back to a gentler and safer and greatly more attractive past. Nothing may ever be easy for him again. Never again may his good intentions be so readily trusted. Perhaps, therefore, we have him where we want him—as the weak leader of a weak government, able to do little more that is bad while we wait for the Conservatives or some other party of replacement to pull itself together.

On the other hand, this is not certain. A Prime Minister in being is still a Prime Minister; and events may always bring a recovery of his standing and power. And though I am not often given to explosions of moral outrage, that photograph will not quickly fade from my memory. I cannot think of it, and of our vicarious role in its production, without wanting to shout obscenities. Let him be replaced, I say, and soon. It matters not who replaces him. His continued residence in Downing Street dirties this country. He is trash, and all I really want at this moment is to know that I shall live long enough to dance on his grave.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 113
13th October 2003

Not Socialism, but Post-Socialism:
The Nature of the Enemy
by Sean Gabb

Preface

Around this time of year, I give much of my writing time to complaints about the Conservative Party. There is little directly on this matter I have not already published; and I see no reason for saying it all again with a present set of examples. What I will do instead is to provide a sociological analysis of why the Conservatives are doing so badly. I begin this with an abstract that summarises a longer argument.

Abstract

The problems now faced by the Conservative Party are not fundamentally a matter of policies and personalities. They are instead the effect of a set of assumptions—more or less accepted by all involved in politics—that makes the advocacy of conservative ideas almost impossible. Using the terminology and analysis of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist thinker, this set of assumptions may be called a "hegemonic discourse". Propagated by all the instruments of administration and law and education, it sets the terms of public debate—what questions may and may not be asked, and how those allowed may be answered.

The discourse is not supported by overt propaganda of the kind used by the totalitarian states of the middle and late 20th century. It is instead imposed by three primary methods. There is the control of terminology—"left" and "right", "progressive" and "outmoded", and so forth—thereby enabling arguments to be conducted in terms already biassed to one side. Periodic shifts in terminology - "gay" for homosexual", for example—also allows one side to come to any argument from an already established position of moral superiority. There is control of the news media. This does not involve actual lying. It is rather a matter of selection and emphasis of true facts: articles and news items can be constructed that in the formal sense are wholly neutral, but that create an entirely prejudicial effect on their audience. Then there is control of the entertainment media. Again, this does not involve the crude propagandising of the National and Bolshevik Socialists. It is the use of drama and comedy to normalise attitudes previously regarded as unusual or even offensive, and to associate their opposites with all that is bad.

Conservative opposition to the New Labour project is based on the assumption that it is essentially about economic policy. But it is not about economics—or is so only at the periphery. This project is one of cultural deconstruction. Socialism of the familiar kind is for the moment dead. This project is its replacement. The established order of liberal democracy is still to be overturned, but not by the traditional means of seizing the means of production. Though not socialists in the traditional sense, the directors of the project were all influenced—at university or by example—by the writings of Gramsci and Foucault and Althusser, and the various other philosophers of the "New Left".

To understand what is happening needs an understanding of these philosophers. Indeed, to understand their writings is of the greatest importance—just as understanding those of Karl Marx was in the earlier debates over socialism. The critiques of liberal democracy contained in these writings are all variously false or questionable. But the analyses of how the ruling class gains and keeps power - through the control of culture and the construction of hegemonic discourses—may be seen as a set of instructions for how the new non-economic socialists can themselves gain and keep power.

These writings are also useful to the opponents of the project. For over a generation, the enemies of liberal democracy have been complaining about "repressive tolerance" and "labelling" and "moral panics" and "hegemonic ideologies". All these terms and the analyses they express can now be used with far greater justice against these enemies of liberal democracy. They can be used to spread embarrassment and confusion, and also to recapture the moral high ground of debate.

For this to be achieved, however, it is necessary to educate conservatives in general—and Conservatives in particular—so that they can understand the nature of the present threat, and to use these captured tools of analysis and attack. Arguments based on the economic calculation debate won against the socialists from the 1920s onwards are for the moment largely useless. It is now accepted that the State cannot bake bread better or more cheaply than the private sector. It is still useful to complain about high taxes and the growing burden of regulation. But these complaints must be grounded on an understanding of the reasons why these taxes and regulations are being imposed—their purpose being to advance an agenda of cultural transformation.

How this education is to be achieved is a matter for further discussion. Briefly put, is there anyone out there who will give me the money needed to buy the time for educating the conservative movement?

I can be reached by the usual means.

Sean Gabb
13 October 2003
sean@libertarian.co.uk
07956 472 199

Introduction

For at least ten years now, the British Conservative Party has been in serious trouble. It has lost two of the past three general elections, and does not seem likely to win the next one. The reasons for this collapse of support can be divided under two headings. There are local and general reasons. The local reasons are obvious. Since Margaret Thatcher was forced from office in November 1990, the Party has had three more or less ineffectual leaders. At the same time, the Blair Government has been reasonably able and very lucky. It has faced no serious challenge to its authority, and has done little immediate harm to the strong economic position inherited from the Conservatives in 1997.

If these were the only reasons for Conservative weakness, the solution would be fairly easy. It would be a matter of looking for a better leader, or waiting for the recession to hit, or both. The problem is that, behind these local reasons, there are general reasons for weakness that make it very hard for any Conservative leader to be effective, or for any but the most serious failure by Labour to bring its legitimacy as the governing party into doubt. Indeed, even given some unexpected upset that might bring them back into office, it is unlikely that the Conservatives would find themselves in power. For all they might be able to form a Conservative Government, they would not be able to pursue conservative objects in defence of liberal democracy. The great problem for the Conservatives, regardless of whoever leads them, is that they are the target of a highly effective Gramscian project, and they show not the smallest sign of understanding the nature of their enemy.

A Gramscian Project

The administration of this country should not be regarded as a neutral machine, to be directed as the elected politicians please. It is instead best seen as a web of people and institutions. There are the civil servants. There are the public sector educators. There are the semi-autonomous agencies funded by the tax payers. There are journalists and other communicators. There are certain formally private media and entertainment and legal and business interests that obtain power, status and income from the policies of government. Together, these are the true government of this country. The elected politicians are not unimportant parts of the administrative web. But they are required to work within limitations imposed by the web as a whole. These limitations are set by the ideas that hold the various parts of the web together.

These ideas may be called a hegemonic ideology. They set the agenda of debate and policy. They determine what questions exist, how they can be discussed, and what solutions may be applied. They provide a whole language of debate. Ideas outside the range of this hegemonic ideology—as especially those hostile to it—either have no words at all for their discussion, or can be discussed only in words that implicitly discredit them in advance. Once achieved within the administrative web, ideological hegemony can be spread, through education and example, to the rest of the population.

The function of ideological hegemony is to legitimise the power and status of the ruling élites in a society, and to marginalise dissent where it cannot altogether be prevented. It supplements—or can even entirely replace—the more overt forms of repression.

These functions were first analysed in systematic manner by Antonio Gramsci, an Italian Marxist imprisoned by Mussolini. By the early 20th century, it was clear, in spite of what Marx had predicted, that the industrial working classes in Western Europe and America would not rise in spontaneous revolution. Rather than conclude that the whole theory had been falsified by events, Gramsci and his followers developed the "rescue hypothesis" that the workers had been prevented from understanding their real interests by their acceptance of the dominant bourgeois ideology. Because they thought in terms of national identity and the amelioration of hardship through social reform, they could not see how exploited they were, and how no true improvement was possible within the existing mode of production.

The purpose and use of this analysis has tended to limit its reception among conservatives. However, once developed, any set of ideas can be detached from the circumstances that produced it. It makes no more sense for non-socialists to reject the concept of ideological hegemony because of its origins than it did for the German national socialists to reject the theory of relativity because it was originated by a Jew. Where ideas are concerned, all that matters is whether they are true or false.

Now, when applied to the institutions of liberal democracy, the analysis was false. These were reasonably open societies, with a high degree of toleration of dissent, and economic institutions that had raised and were raising the living standards of all social groups. Nevertheless, it does exactly apply to those people who have taken control of the administrative web and are using it to impose their own, profoundly anti-conservative hegemony in Britain and throughout the English-speaking world.

A Quasi-Marxist Ideological Hegemony

In a sense, the administrative web has been dominated for at least the past three generations by ideas hostile to conservatism. Ever since the 1940s, conservative governments in both Britain and America have found it necessary to govern mostly within the assumptions of the administrators and of their allies. However, the old anti-conservative élites—headed by people like J.M. Keynes and Paul Samuelson, and Roy Jenkins and Warren Christopher - by and large accepted the assumptions of liberal democracy. There was a commitment to open and reasonably fair debate, and to the proposition that justice should remain separate from politics. It was bound together by a belief in its superior wisdom and goodness and by a contempt for opposition. But its hegemony was rather mild and amateurish, and little attempt was made to preserve that hegemony after its claims had been falsified in the 1970s. Since the 1970s - even as conservatives were celebrating the death of socialism—a new and far more professional and ruthless hegemony has been established within the administrative web.

This hegemony proceeds from the progressive domination of the universities by radical socialists. From Sociology and the other social studies, they spread out to colonise virtually every other discipline with the exceptions of Economics, Mathematics and the natural sciences. They are particularly strong in most departments of Education and in teacher training programmes. Since the 1960s, they have been turning out generation after generation of graduates exposed to the ideas of Marxism and quasi-Marxism. Few of these graduates, of course, became committed activists. But, from early middle age downwards, there are now hundreds of thousands of intellectual workers—the key personnel of the administrative web - whose minds have been shaped within radical socialist assumptions.

How the Death of Socialism Has Strengthened Socialists

When socialism collapsed in the 1980s as an economic ideology in the West, and as the legitimisation of tyranny in the East, it seemed at first as if the world had been made safe for liberal democracy. Francis Fukuyma, for example, felt able to argue that the next century would see the progressive triumph around the world of capitalism, democracy and the rule of law. More than a decade later, though, we can see that his optimism was at least premature.

If we look at the leading personnel in the Blair and Clinton administrations—and, perhaps more importantly in the administrative webs below them—we see an almost unvaried hold on positions of importance by people whose minds have been at least shaped by the general ideas of radical socialism. They may no longer be socialists in the economic sense. But their most basic assumptions—from which their old economic analysis had proceeded—has remained intact.

The Relevance of a Gramscian Analysis

What makes the various kinds of Marxist and neo-Marxist analysis so peculiarly appropriate to their actions is that these analyses accurately describe how their minds work. Speech in the old liberal democracies was reasonably free. There was an attempt to separate news from comment. Justice was fairly impartial. But since our new rulers spent their younger years denying these truths, they are quite willing, now they are in power, to act on the belief that they are not true. Because they believe that tolerance is repressive, they are repressive. Because they do not believe that objectivity is possible, they make no attempt at objectivity. Because they do not believe that justice is other than politics by other means, they are politicising justice. Because they believe that liberal democracy is a façade behind which a ruling class hides its ruthless hold on power, they are making a sham of liberal democracy. In this scheme of things, the works of a whole line of Marxist and neo-Marxist philosophers, from Gramsci to Foucault, are to be read not as a critique of liberal democracy, but as the manifesto of their students.

What the Socialists Want

That these people cannot clearly describe the shape of their ideal society, does not at all weaken the force of their attack on the one that exists. The old socialists were notoriously vague about their final utopia, but this did not stop them from producing mountains of dead bodies wherever they took power. We may doubt if the present generation of socialists are sincere when they talk about justice, peace and good will between all people. But we can have no doubt of their immediate end. This is the destruction of the old social and political order—the overturning of its traditions and norms, its standards and laws, its history and heroes. Every autonomous institution, every set of historical associations, every pattern of loyalty that they cannot control—these they want to destroy or neutralise.

The Lack of Conservative Response

As said, this is a Gramscian project carried out by Gramscians. These people spent their younger years reading and thinking about ideological hegemony, and they are now, in their middle years, trying to achieve it. Again, as said, conservatives do not understand the nature of the attack. They understand armed terrorism, and know—at least in theory—how to deal with it. They also know about economic socialism, and are fluent in all the necessary modes of refutation. But the anti-conservatives are not really interested in armed violence—why should they be when they dominate the administrative web? Nor are they really interested in nationalising the means of production, distribution and exchange. No doubt, the Blair Government has raised taxes since 1997, and has imposed a mass of regulations on business. But the tax rises have not been high enough, nor the regulations heavy enough, to give serious inconvenience to the important big business interests.

The real area of conflict is cultural. That is where the engines of destruction are now most concentrated. And this is a conflict in which there is no overall strategy of defence. There are local defences, and these sometimes succeed. But there is no strategy, nor even the realisation that one might be needed. The engines of destruction may be ranged against fox hunting, or unfashionable humour, or Remembrance Day commemorations, or the Churches, or the nuclear family, or received opinions about the past, or national independence, or the Monarchy, or standard English, or private motoring, or whatever else—but the object is always to delegitimise dissent where it cannot be made impossible.

The strategy of attack is easily described. It involves controlling the language of public debate, control of the news and entertainment media, and the use of these to control perceptions of the past and thereby to shape the future. As Orwell said in Nineteen Eighty Four, "who controls the present controls the past: who controls the past controls the future".

The Control of Language

Most obvious is the control of political taxonomy. The distinction between "right" and "left" is an extraordinarily pervasive force, shaping general understanding and judgement of political concepts. Hitler was on the "extreme right". Conservatives are on the "right". Therefore, all conservatives partake of evil, the extent of evil varying with the firmness with which conservative views are held. Any conservative who wants to achieve respect in the media must first show that his conservatism is of the "moderate" kind—that intellectually he more of a social drinker than an alcoholic. Equally, libertarians and those called "neo-liberals" are on the "right". Therefore, they must be evil. The humorous accusation that someone is "to the right of Genghis Khan" serves the same function.

The use of this taxonomy allows the most contradictory views on politics and economics to be compounded, and all to be smeared without further examination as disreputable. Therefore, the "extreme right-winger" David Irving, who is a national socialist and holocaust revisionist; the "extreme right-winger" J.M. le Pen, who wants to reduce the flow of immigrants into France, but is not a national socialist and who apparently has much Jewish support in his country; and the "extreme right-winger" Enoch Powell, who was a traditional English conservative and a notable champion of liberal economics - all these are placed into the same category, and hostile judgements on one are by natural extension applied to the others.

At various times and in various ways, the trick has been played with other words—for example, "reform", progressive", "modernisation", and "outmoded". This first is among the earliest modern examples. From around the end of the 18th century, concerted efforts were made to alter the qualifications for voting in parliamentary elections. The advocates of change were arguing for the abandoning of a system that had been associated with the rise of England to wealth and national greatness, and that had allowed a reconciling of reasonably stable government with free institutions. In its place they wanted a franchise that had never before been tried —except perhaps in some of the revolutionary upheavals in Europe. Perhaps they were right. Perhaps they were proved right in the event. But their way was made easier by calling the proposed changes "reform"—a word they charged with positive associations - and leaving their conservative opponents to argue against "improvement". Modern politics are less intellectually distinguished than in the 19th century. Therefore, less effort has been needed to play the trick with "outmoded" - which allows ideas and laws to be rejected simply on the grounds that they are old.

Then there are the periodic changes of permitted terminology. Every so often, conservative newspapers report that a new word has been coined to describe an established fact, and laugh at the seeming pedantry with which use of this new word is enforced within the administrative web. For example, homosexual became "gay", which became "lesbian-and-gay", and which is now becoming "LGBT"—this being the acronym for "lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered". Words like mongol, spastic, cripple, single mother, and many others, have likewise been replaced and replaced again. In a sense, this is a misguided but well-meaning attempt to mitigate the hardship of the thing by finding new words that contain no added hurt. But its effect—and therefore part of its intention, a Granscian project being granted—is to remove conservatives from the moral high ground in any debate over policy on such people. When conservatives must think twice before opening their mouths, consulting their opponents on what language of description is now appropriate, they have conceded a very important part of the agenda of debate to their opponents. They have conceded an authority over words that must be gradually extended to a general authority. Conservatives may laugh at the clumsy acronyms and circumlocutions that are coined to replace existing words. But the intention is far from comic; and the effect is highly dangerous.

A similar effect is achieved with the frequent and often seemingly arbitrary changes of name given to ethnic groups and to places. Gypsies must now be called "Roma" or simply "Rom", and Red Indians must be called "Native Americans". Ceylon has become Sri Lanka, Dacca has become Dhaka, and Bombay has become Mumbai. Again, words are no longer the neutral means of discussion, but are charged with a political meaning, and judgements can be made on whether or not they are used as required.

Sometimes, words are imposed with a more immediate effect than forcing the deference of opponents. Take a word like "underprivileged", which has largely replaced the older word poor. This came into general use in the 1970s, and was soon used without apology or comment even by Conservative Cabinet Ministers. It carries a powerful ideological charge—the message that anyone with money in the bank or a good set of clothes has somehow received an unfair advantage, and that those who lack these things have been deliberately excluded from the distribution. Though frequent use has tended to blunt its effect and make it no more than a synonym for poor, its acceptance in any debate on social policy puts conservatives at an instant disadvantage.

Control of the News Media

Noam Chomsky, another radical socialist, is useful to an understanding of how the news media are controlled. There is no overt censorship of news—no bureau through which news must be cleared, no restrictive licensing of media outlets, no closed order of journalists, or whatever. Instead, only those journalists and media bureaucrats are ever appointed to positions of public influence who already share the hegemonic ideology. They censor themselves.

Again, the Chomsky analysis was intended to apply to the media in a liberal democracy, and was false. When liberal democracy was in its prime, there was a truly diverse media in which all strands of opinion found open expression. But, as ever, his analysis does apply to any media dominated by those he has influenced. Nobody tells BBC reporters how to cover stories. Instead, all BBC positions are advertised in The Guardian, and most are filled with graduates from the appropriate Media Studies courses.

Now, the propaganda thereby spread by this controlled media is not usually so overt and as that of the great totalitarian tyrannies of the 20th century. Techniques of influence have much improved since then. News is reported, and with seeming accuracy. The propaganda lies in the selection and presentation of news. To take a notorious example, everyone knows that the overwhelming majority of interracial crime in Britain and America is black on white. Yet this is not reflected in the media coverage. When the black teenager, Stephen Lawrence, was killed in South London back in 1992, the story received lavish coverage in the media; and the story continued through failed trials, a public enquiry, and the official and media harassment of the unconvicted suspects. The much larger number of black on white murders—known rather than suspected murders, and containing an obvious racial motivation—are either not reported at all or covered briefly and without comment in the local media.

Then there is the presentation of news. A skilled journalist can cover a story in such a way that no fact is untrue, and dissenting views are reported in full—and still manage to produce an article so biassed that it amounts to a lie. It is a question of selecting the right adjectives, or suggesting doubts or motives, of balancing quotations, of carefully taking words and opinions accurately reported but framing them in settings that suggest the opposite. The greatest single exposure of these techniques is the 1993 article "How to Frame a Patriot" by Barry Krusch. But, to give a brief example, look at the way in which almost all coverage in The New York Times and on CNN of the Oklahoma bombings include some reference to the American militia movement. No connection has ever been proven between the bombings and any militia, yet the connection is still made in reporting of the bombings - without making any overt accusation, the association is still made out. Or look at the way in which nearly all media coverage of the British Conservative Party smuggles in some reference to the personal corruption of several Ministers in the John Major Cabinet. The exception to this rule is Kenneth Clarke, the leading Conservative supporter of British adoption of the Euro: his role in the arms to Iraq scandal is forgotten. Equally, any reporting of the far worse corruption in Tony Blair's Cabinet is usually accompanied more by pity than condemnation. Without any actual lies told, the impression conveyed is that the last Conservative government was so corrupt that the known examples may have been a fraction of the whole, while the present Labour government is a model of virtue compromised only by the Prime Minister's inability to realise that not all his colleagues reach his own standards of honesty.

Control of the Entertainment Media

Control of the entertainment media is an area almost uncovered in Britain, except for the radical socialist analyses of the 1960s and 1970s. But it is probably far more important than any control of the news media. Fewer and fewer people nowadays pay much attention to current affairs programmes on the television, or read anything in the newspapers beyond the sports pages—if they still read newspapers at all. But millions watch the entertainment programmes; and these have been recruited as part of the hegemonic apparatus.

Look at the BBC soap Eastenders. This is a programme in which almost no marriage is happy or lasts for long, in which anyone wearing a suit is likely to be a villain, and in which the few sympathetic characters are worthless but presented as victims of circumstances. While they may not have invented them, the scriptwriters have introduced at least two phrases into working class language: "It's doing my head in", and "It's all pressing in on me". These are usually screamed by one of the characters just before he commits some assault on his own property or another person. It means that the character has lost control of his emotions and can no longer be held accountable for his actions.

Then there is its almost comical political correctness. One of the characters is a taxi driver and his mother is an old working class native of the East End. Neither of them raised the obvious objection when one of his daughters decided to marry a black man—not that such a marriage would be in any sense wrong: what matters here is the deliberate absence of the obvious objection as part of a project of delegitimisation. But this is a flourish. The longer term effect of the programme is to encourage intellectual passivity, an abandoning of moral responsibility, and an almost Mediterranean lack of emotional restraint.

Or look at how the BBC treats its own archive. Every so often, black and white footage of presenters from the 1950s is shown, with parodied upper class voices talking nonsense or mild obscenity added in place of the original sound. Is this meant to be funny? Perhaps it is. But its effect—and, again, its probable intention at least in part—is to sneer at the more polished and sedate modes of communication used before the present hegemonic control was imposed.

It is possible to fill up page after page with similar examples of the use of popular entertainment as a reinforcer of the hegemonic ideology—the careful balance of races and sexes in positions of authority, the vilification of white middle class men, the undermining of traditional morals and institutions, the general attack on all that is targeted for destruction. Any one example given may seem trifling or even paranoid. But, taken together, the function of much of the entertainment media is to subvert the old order. Hardly ever are people told openly to go and vote Labour. But the overall effect is so to change perceptions of the present and past that voting Conservative or expressing conservative opinions comes to be regarded as about as normal and respectable as joining a Carmelite nunnery. And barely a word is raised in protest.

How to Win the Battle

I do have a complete strategy of opposition, but have none of the financial means needed to implement it. This analysis is offered, therefore, in the hope that someone will agree with me sufficiently to fund the strategy.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 130
16th February 2005

What's Wrong With British Conservatism?
Text of a Speech Given By Sean Gabb
at The Royal Society of Arts,
Tuesday the 15th February 2005

On Tuesday the 15th February 2005, I spoke at a conference organised by the Royal Society of Arts in London. The subject was “What's Wrong With British Conservatism?.” According to the official notification of this debate:

While American conservatism is in such apparently rude health, its English cousin appears terminally ill. The British Conservative Party used to be the biggest political party in the West, but is now a shadow of its former self. What happened to the social base of the British Conservative party? Can the British Conservative Party learn any lessons from America?

The speakers were:

  • Boris Johnson, MP for Henley and editor of The Spectator;
  • Dr Irwin Stelzer, Director of Economic Policy Studies, The Hudson Institute, and editor of Neoconservatism;
  • Paul Whiteley, Professor of Government at the University of Essex;
  • Dr Sean Gabb, Director of Communications at the Libertarian Alliance.  

The Chairman of the debate was Samuel Brittan, a writer for The Financial Times and author of Against The Flow

It was a most interesting debate, and I am glad that so many of my friends were able to attend. I am obtaining a recording of the event, and will place this on the Libertarian Alliance website just as soon as I can find time for the necessary conversion and html coding. In the meantime, here is a brief record of it.

Dr Irwin Stelzer spoke from an American perspective. He said that the British Conservative Party needs to learn from the Republicans. He made several good points. But since the American Republicans are not really concerned with liberty, or with any type of conservatism relevant to the English tradition, his advice was of limited use.

Boris Johnson gave his usual good and enthusiastic performance. Though I had a rather bitter dispute with him in 2001, I have come in recent years to think more highly of him. He is easily the most interesting and clever Conservative politician in the public eye. If only he were less immediately ambitious and were willing to wait another five years or so for a chance of real power, he might look forward to a very successful career. As it is, he feels too constrained to follow the existing Party line, and this diminished the impact of what he had to say.

Paul Whiteley ran through various polling statistics that showed the Conservatives to be not entirely without hope of winning the next election. While the main opinion polls put the Government ahead, this lead vanishes once the likely turnout is considered. Labour support is melting away in much of the country, while the Conservative core vote is largely holding together. While I am not sure what sort of mandate might flow from an election won on the basis of whose vote collapses the least, I do grant that Mr Blair may be in serious electoral trouble. 

Now to my own speech. I do have a strong prejudice against reading from a prepared text. The ancients never did this – and whatever they did in the arts is a model for all eternity. There used to be rules in the House of Commons against even notes. And the soporific effect of a read speech entirely cancels the effect of the best preparation. On the other hand, I had only eight minutes for my speech, and I wanted to ensure that I made every point I had in mind. So I wrote a speech last Friday, and spent the next few days thinking about the balance and spoken emphases of the sentences. I did think to have the text in front of me as I spoke. Fortunately, I was unable to find this in my bag, and so had to speak from memory and momentary inspiration.

I shall never be a really good public speaker. My voice is too flat, and I never think to smile at an audience. But I can be effective. I spoke clearly and grammatically last night, and I said everything I wanted much as I had wanted. I may even have made the best speech. Here it is:

The central question of this debate, ladies and gentlemen, is what is wrong with British conservatism?  My answer – and I speak for many other people, both in this room and beyond – Is hardly anything at all. From Europe to tax to immigration, conservatives are beginning to set the agenda of public debate. Forget the largely mythical threat of Islamic terrorism: it is against conservatives that laws like the Civil Contingencies Act have been made. Whole stretches of popular culture – the comedian Jimmy Carr, for example, or BBC satirical programmes like Monkey Dust and Little Britain – are objectively conservative. There is now in this country a conservative movement – and I include libertarians in this movement – more passionate and more agreed in substance on what needs to be done than I can recall. All that is wrong with British conservatism is that it lacks a conservative party. The Conservative Party has been out of office now for almost eight years; and even against a Government that, for corruption and incompetence and petty tyranny and high treason and utter discredit, is unprecedented in our history, it is unlikely to win the next election – or perhaps the one after that.

The problem with the Conservative Party and its associated media is that as long as I have been alive, its function has been less to advance conservative interests than to neutralise conservative opinion. This country is ruled by the left. The left dominates the administration and the media and education. Its aim is to construct a new order in which – whatever its proposed merits—we shall have been stripped of our historic liberties and our national identity. The left continues to rule by ruthlessly destroying anyone who challenges it. Even so, it must rule a nation that, so long as it remains a nation, is strongly conservative. The solution is a Conservative Party and a Conservative media that many of us increasingly call the Quisling Right.

A Quisling Rightist is someone who calls himself a Conservative. When standing for office, he implies promises without making them. If pressed, he will make promises that he has no intention of keeping. If elected, he will make firm declarations of principle and argue over inessentials. His conservative politics are purely symbolic. Where essentials are concerned, he will do nothing to challenge the continued domination of the left. In return for this, he will be invited to the best parties, and allowed endless time in the media. When he leaves politics, he will become the Warden of an Oxford college or the Chancellor of one of the new universities. He will be allowed income and status. He will earn this by systematically betraying those who trusted him to stand up for all that they held most dear this side of the grave.

There was a time when conservatives were not able properly to discuss what, on a candid review of the past half century, is hardly worth contesting. Conservatives generally came together only within the institutional structures of the Conservative Party – a rigid, centralised organisation, as able to suppress internal dissidence as the old Communist Party. But the Internet has now brought thousands of us together in places far beyond Party control. And if we argue there over many things, we agree on many others. And what we are coming to agree most firmly is that there is no point in working for a victory at the next election of the Conservative Party.

What would happen, we ask, if, by some miracle, the Conservative were to form the next government? Our answer is that they would do nothing substantial. At the end of five years, there would have been much political excitement and much appearance that something was being done. But there would, at the end, have been still fewer of our historic liberties and still less of our national identity. The project of the left would have moved forward as if Labour had never left off ice.

Why then vote Conservative? For myself – and for most of my friends – if I must be destroyed, let me be speared in the front by someone who looks me in the eye and calls himself my enemy. Far better this than be garrotted from behind by a supposed friend.

Until recently, this line of thinking could often be checked by the approach of an election. The Conservatives are dreadful, we would say. They have broken all their promises so far. But Labour is dreadful too, and these Conservatives might this time do something half decent. But this check no longer applies. The present generation of the Quisling Right is so ineffective that it cannot even tell a straight lie. It will not win the next election. This being so, we in the conservative movement might as well vote for a party that says what we believe. That party will not win either, but at least our votes will be counted and recognised as a clear statement of opinion. What party will this be? It might be UKIP. It might be Veritas. It might be some other party yet to be formed. It will not be the Conservative Party.

Let me end where I began. The conservative movement in this country is in enviably good health. All we need to take power and dismantle the project of the left is a conservative party that is at heart conservative. All that holds us back is that we are stuck with the Quisling Right. 

I could have elaborated on these points. But I made them well enough.

Afterwards to dinner with Dr Tame, David Carr, Bruce Nichol and Paul Staines. We agreed that there was a comfort in despair. Now that the Conservatives have made it clear that they have no intention of rolling back the New Labour revolution, and now that they have ensured they cannot win the next election – as opposed to watching Labour lose it – we felt content to watch the downward course of events, while continuing to prepare for some eventual reaction. 

As said, I will in due course publish a sound file of the proceedings, and will also get copies of the various photographs taken.

Free Life Commentary,
an independent journal of comment
published on the Internet

Issue Number 133
7th April 2005

Forget the Election: How We by Delaying Yet May Save the Nation
by Sean Gabb

I will not presume here to advise my readers on how to vote in this general election. In the first place, most of you would pay no attention to my advice. In the second, I am not sure if I have any to give. Instead, I will explain what I think about the election, and what I plan – speaking for myself alone – to do about it.

My own approach to the election is simple. I want Labour to lose, and I do not want the Conservatives to win. My objection to Labour is its leadership of a cultural revolution that is obviously directed at stripping us of our liberties. It is not, of course, a revolution that began in 1997. It has been a project for at least the past half century of our entire ruling class, which I will define – yet again – as the sum of political, administrative, educational, legal media and business interests that gain status and income from an enlarged and active state: perhaps we can also call this the Enemy Class by virtue of its object. But there is no doubt that the revolution was greatly hastened when the present Government came into office. I should also say that the overt intention of these people is not always to make us into slaves. Some, no doubt, just want more money and privilege for themselves, and do not care to think about what this means for the rest of us. Some genuinely want to create a better world, and find that the existing order of liberty gets in the way of this. Of course, I have no sympathy for this object. I can understand that the French Jacobins did not realise what they were doing. I can just about feel for some of the Communists at the end of the Great War. But we now have a 200 year experience of the fact that every road to Utopia is paved with corpses, and these people ought to know better.

But, whatever I think of these people, I do accept that they are not stupid in their means of securing their end. Their strategy for abolishing liberty is highly effective. In this country – and I will say also in America – liberty is not something that depends for its existence on a set of written guarantees. These may be useful. But the real defence of liberty is its placing within a web of associations that makes its abolition unthinkable. Our own constitution is an organic growth. It draws its legitimacy from a perception that it has always existed. There are powerful abstract justifications of freedom of speech and freedom of contract and trial by jury and all the other procedural safeguards of our criminal law. But these abstract justifications do not individually count for much in the public mind against the specific practical objections that can always be fabricated by the Enemy Class. What preserves them over the long term is their position within the larger web of associations. The best defence of – say—trial by jury, we have seen in recent years, is the argument that it has existed for 800 years. Therefore, the best means of destroying liberty is to destroy that overall web of associations.

It may be an illusion natural to childhood, but I believed as a child that I lived in an order that was both ancient and permanent. During the past 30 years, that belief has become impossible to sustain. The currency has been decimalised. The weights and measures have been metricated. The county boundaries have been redrawn again and again. Writs have become claim forms. Plaintiffs have become claimants. Affidavits have become statements of truth. The Lord Chancellor is being renamed the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. By a series of individually small changes, any one of which can be defended – and sometimes with good reason – as improvements, the past has been made into a foreign country. I belong to the last generation in this country that can pick up a book written before about 1960, without needing a mass of footnotes to understand common allusions.

Indeed, not only has the past been made into a foreign country – it has also been demonised. It was a time of class inequality and racism and imperial aggression. We are better off without it. This demonisation has been achieved partly by explicit statement in television documentaries and the remodelling of museum and the rewriting of history books. But it has been achieved mostly by implicit means. Look, for example, at those posters sometimes displayed on the London Underground. We see black and white photographs of stiff bus conductors from the 1950s, their faces pinched by loss of teeth and roughened by blunt razor blades. Contrasted with these we see modern, full-colour pictures of black bus conductresses, their bodies contorted as if on a dance floor, their white, even teeth bared in wide grins. Look again at how the BBC shows black and white films of suited announcers form the past, with silly statements dubbed over. In all cases, the sub-text is to make the past alien and hostile.

Yes, much has improved over the past half century. But this is not celebrated – as it was in 1897 or 1951 – as a continuous, organic improvement. It is instead used to create the impression that the past has been abolished and we are living in a new world. This allows changes that were once unthinkable to become the daily business of government. When the double jeopardy rule was abolished, and similar fact and hearsay evidence was made admissible in criminal cases, those who opposed the changes could be portrayed as the enemies of “modernisation” – they could be dismissed in exactly the same terms as those who resisted decimalisation and those who still resist metrication. When it comes to the actual abolishing of our political independence and the projected transfer of our financial independence to the European Central bank, the only objections accepted as legitimate are based on considerations of short term economic calculation.

That is why I want to see Labour lose this election. With a renewed mandate – even if this were based on the positive approval of around 20 per cent of the whole electorate, Labour will continue with the cultural revolution. There will be more police state laws, more unaccountable and often alien rule, more remodelling of the Constitution. By the end of this decade, many of what we still take as the unchanging basics of our national life will have been swept away or transformed into something new and sinister.

But let me now turn to the Conservatives. As said, the revolution did not begin in 1997. It was merely accelerated. We had Conservative Governments for about three fifths of the time between 1951 and 1997. All that has been done during the past eight years rests on foundations laid during periods of Conservative supremacy in Parliament. What reason have we for believing that another Conservative Government after this coming 5th May would reverse any of what has been done so far? The answer is that we have no reason whatever.

Forget the Macmillan and Heath and Thatcher years. Given the present condition of the Conservative Party, there would have been no real hope even had Mr Howard been more effective than he has turned out to be. The whole Conservative strategy since 1997 has been nothing but a competing set of Quisling Right deceptions. The Conservatives have – and have had – no intention of rolling back the cultural revolution. Rather than discuss the nature of Enemy Class control of the administration, of the media and of education, and show how this is being used to destroy both individual freedom and national identity, and consider how best to restore liberal democracy, they have given themselves to fraudulent gestures. Under William Hague, these were simply incoherent. Under Iain Duncan Smith, they were timid. Under Mr Howard, they have been more focussed. But these are nuances. The overall strategy has never been more than to lie their way back into office and then to do nothing to shake the established structures of power in this country.

I did say at the beginning of the article that I would not give advice. But I am by trade a lecturer. I am constitutionally incapable of not giving advice. And so, because this is a stream of consciousness article, thrown together on my railway journey home, I will not silently withdraw my promise by recasting the article. I will instead break the promise, and proceed straight to my advice.

If what I want comes to pass, that the Conservatives will not win a majority next month, we are no worse off than before. We may, indeed, be better off. If we are to be destroyed, let it be done openly, by people who make no secret of their intentions. That is at least more seemly than a destruction presided over by supposed friends, who quote Burke and Disraeli in their speeches while following an agenda drawn up by the followers of Antonio Gramsci and Theodore Adorno. It also means that conservatives and libertarians can act as a unified movement, rather than – as is the case presently in America – fall into disputes over how far the formally conservative office holders are to be trusted and supported.

Now, it is one thing to say that we can act as a unified movement. It is another entirely to say how we should act. For centuries, English political activity has been focussed on Parliament. Every movement for change has concentrated on getting its spokesmen elected to Parliament and at least to influence the Government through the electoral process. This is now closed to us. The Conservative Party is a shambolic fraud. The small parties that many hope will replace it are too badly organised to gather more than the occasional protest vote. If there is to be a final victory for our movement, it must involve a parliamentary majority. But that is a distant prospect. In the meantime, what is to be done?

My answer in the short term is that we must assist in the destruction of the Conservative Party. While it remains in being as a potential vehicle of government, every initiative from our movement will be taken over and neutralised. I will vote next month for the United Kingdom Independence Party. I do not believe that my candidate will win. I strongly doubt even that any UKIP candidate anywhere in the country will save his deposit. I will vote for UKIP because it is the most obvious dustbin for disgusted Conservative votes. There is an argument for not voting at all. If I believed we were absolutely without hope in the short term, that I what I should do. A collapse in turnout, after all, is a far more effective delegitimisation of the present order of things than a reduced Labour Majority or even a hung Parliament. But there is always the faint hope that someone in the Conservative leadership will get out his pocket calculator next 6th May and add to the actual Conservative vote all the votes given to the various Conservative Parties in exile, and realise that the Quisling Right strategy of implied or fraudulent promises must be abandoned if the Party is ever to stand another chance of winning a general election. I may be wrong here. But if I am wrong, voting for a fringe party is unlikely to do much harm – and may do some good.

In the longer term, we must learn to keep our nerve. Unless we have another of those strokes of luck that have always got us out of trouble in the past, there is no immediate prospect of victory. The Enemy Class has too strong an ideological and repressive state apparatus for it to be defeated by simple electoral means. We need to consider a Fabian strategy. I do not wholly mean by this copying the socialist intellectuals who surrounded the Webbs a hundred years ago. What I have in mind is Quintus Fabius Maximus, who was appointed Dictator during the Second Punic War. Under Hannibal, the Carthaginians had broken into Italy. They had annihilated every Roman army sent against them. As an army in the field, they were unbeatable. And so Fabius avoided battle and let them wear themselves out. Where possible, he harried them with small skirmishes. Otherwise, his main victories were clever retreats that kept his own army in being. Though his strategy was at first unpopular with the more straightforward Romans, he prepared the way for the great victories of Scipio Africanus; and he died the acknowledged saviour of his country. Unus homo nobis cunctando restituit rem, said Ennius of him.

That must be our model. Elections cost money. They absorb huge amounts of time and effort. Every failure is disheartening. We cannot afford the luxury of thinking we can vote our way to safety. We need instead to create our own media to get our message across. We need to continue organising among ourselves. We need, where appropriate, to use the courts. These are not necessarily expensive. The Internet has transformed the balance of power between the public and the established media. So long as we can stop tearing each other apart in various internal disputes – the Conservative and UKIP activists are increasingly tiresome in this respect – we already have a large network of publicists. At least two court actions in recent years – over compulsory metrication and the hunting ban – have been successful. They did not achieve their stated aims, but gave the Judges an excuse to change the Constitution in our favour. Though not cheap, they were not prohibitively expensive. Above all, we can expect the Enemy Class eventually to run out of commitment, and transform itself into an increasingly timid ancien regime. Remember, these people are at war not just with us, but with reality itself. That war must always be lost in the end.

I know that this strategy will be often depressing. It will also be dangerous. I see that Nick Griffin of the British National Party appeared in court today, charged with various offences that should not exist in a free country. His party has been targeted for destruction. Its known members cannot get jobs in the public sector and in growing areas of the private sector. It cannot get its website hosted in this country, and must get its magazine published by an Arab-owned company that has so far been outside the reach of the Enemy Class. Can we assume that these measures will not be extended to us? I am told that, already, applicants for jobs in the Foreign Office are asked if they are or every have been members of a “Eurosceptic organisation”. Fighting the Enemy Class will not be the same as fighting the Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan Governments.

And if victory ever does come, it will be in a transformed country. We shall be like the aristocrats who returned to France in 1814 – though ours will be a liberal reaction. All that we knew and loved in our youths will have been swept away. Much might be recoverable. More will need to be begun over again. The old organic Constitution may have passed beyond recovery, and we shall need to devise some new set of arrangements within which we can recreate the spirit of our past without even what now remain its most hallowed forms. I tremble to clarify this sentence, but I suppose I mean a republic.

We need therefore to have our vision of a conservative England for the 21st century. My own suggestion here is that conservatism is not to be defined as a living in a country where everyone sits down to a dinner of meat and two vegetables while listening to Max Bygraves records – unless, that is, they want to. This is a definition cleverly imposed by the Enemy Class and accepted by both traditionalists and modernisers in the Conservative Party. That is why debate in that Party has settled into a sterile dispute between those who want an agenda of authoritarianism and those who want one of imitative political correctness. We want to be a free people again living in an independent country. On this definition, our allies can be everywhere. They can have nipple rings and green hair. They can be homosexuals and transsexuals and drug users. They can want to live in racially exclusive enclaves. They can be Catholics and Moslems and atheists. Whoever wants to be left alone in his own life, and whoever wants this country to be governed from within this country, is a conservative for the present century.

But I find I am running out of energy and have started to wander even further from my stated object, of explaining my own intentions. So let this be an end of my lecture for today.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the
Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 168
19th February 2008

Are the non-Domiciled Rich and the City
Good for England?
by Sean Gabb

On my way out of the house this morning, I was called by a BBC researcher to discuss my opinion of non-domiciled tax status. As my opinions were not the ones expected, our conversation did not lead to any broadcast. But I was rather pleased with what I said, and I might as well spend the rest of my railway journey writing it down.

For my readers who live abroad, I should explain that resident foreigners in this country enjoy significant tax privileges. I, as a British citizen resident in the United Kingdom, pay tax on my income earned here and elsewhere in the world. A foreigner living here, who can persuade the authorities that his permanent residence is outside the United Kingdom, pays tax only on what income he earns in this country and on what income he brings in from abroad. Whatever he earns abroad and leaves abroad attracts no tax. That is why so many rich people have moved to London.

This privilege is now under attack. During the past eleven years, the British State has almost doubled in size. The Ministers have justified this by an endless chant of "investment in essential public services". In truth—whether to a few white proles, or to Shopping Coordinators for Bearded Men with HIV, or to the various Tarquins and Jaspers who get the contracts to redesign logos and headed paper every time a Ministry name is changed—our tax money has gone on raising up an army of Labour voters. So far, most of us have not paid attention to the systematic looting required for this. Some of it was cleverly disguised. Much of it was enabled by an expansion of the world economy that brought in more revenue without increases in the rates of tax.

This may now change. If we go into recession, the amount of tax paid will fall at current rates. At the same time, there is no room left for imposing taxes that will not be noticed and felt. Therefore, if the payroll vote is to be kept on, let alone expanded, the Government must now openly increase taxes or inflate or both.

That is why the non-domiciled are to be hit with a poll tax of £30,000 per year. This will not put off the fiscal crisis. At £800 million, the sum projected is barely a fifth of one per cent of total government spending. Nor will it last very long. The non-domiciled are already threatening to leave. That means a farewell to Madonna and to Roman Abramovich. More importantly, it means a farewell to some of the most dynamic people in the City of London. To raise barely enough cash to run the National Health Service for a week, the Government is prepared to lose people who contribute billions in employment and indirect tax, and to damage a vast financial machine that generates more than a third of the national income.

But when a state is hungry, every little extra can look tasty. That it may not last beyond the next election is not something at all likely to worry our present set of politicians.

I think the lady from the BBC expected me to run out of breath as I denounced the scheme. She had me listed on her database as Director of the Libertarian Alliance, and took it for granted that I opposed taxes and supported the rich in general and the City of London in particular.

Well, I did denounce the taxes. They were bad, I said, because they stole the produce of a man's labour: taxing is enslaving. They were bad, I added, because they enabled government spending that, even when not obviously wasteful or oppressive, tended to corrupt both direct and indirect recipients.

Her problem started when I moved to the rich and all those City people. Good riddance to the lot of them, I said. If it needed a tax to get them out of England, I might almost find something nice to say about taxes.

That was the end of our conversation. The BBC lady made her excuses and rang off. I imagine she then did a search in her database for Tory Boy Intellectual, and was soon hearing a lecture about London as "the Jewel in the Crown of the British Economy".

I suppose I should explain myself. There are those who think libertarianism involves a defence of riches and of the rich. Some libertarians seem to agree. I do not. A libertarian is someone who wants to be left alone, and who wants to leave others alone, and who wants others to be left alone. People must be taken as the owners of their bodies and of what they create in or appropriate from the external world.

Given that all exchange and other association needs therefore to be voluntary, we move to an endorsement of what is called the free market. If some people do better in life in others, so much the better for them. If they contrive to pass on some part of their success to their children, so much the better again.

This is not, however, an endorsement of actually existing capitalism. A free society is not Tesco minus the State. It is a place of small craftsmen and farmers and traders, of artists and of unlicensed doctors and lawyers, and of others needed if individuals and free associations of individuals are to live well. We cannot say much more than this about the arrangements of a free society. But we can be sure it would have no place for big business as it now is found.

Big business corporatism, I would never seek to deny, is the best economic model humanity has known in over a century. It does generate vast amounts of wealth, and does ensure that much of this is distributed with some approximation of justice. Give me a choice between what we have and any of the state socialisms tried or recommended since Plato, and there is no doubt what I should choose. Nor is there any doubt, though, that the civilised nations made a big collective mistake around the middle of the 19th century. A system of scientific and industrial progress that might have grown into an unmixed blessing was partly hobbled and made into a new instrument of class domination by laws that allowed firms to incorporate and that gave shareholders limited liability for the debts of firms.

The result was a channelling of investment into firms that would never have been trusted had investors continued to face the risk of joint and several liability for debt. As these firms grew to enormous size, they monopolised or cartellised whole markets. They accepted and often quietly called for schemes of tax and regulation that harmed them, but harmed them less than their smaller competitors. In Britain and America, they demanded the underwriting by the State of their foreign expansions.

To ask whether big business bought or were colonised by the political class is irrelevant. All that matters is that we live in a world where political power and corporate wealth are possessed by different wings of the same ruling class. It is a ruling class that presides over whole nations of people transformed by brainwashing and mild but continuous discipline from human beings to human resources.

More than any other financial centre, the City of London stands as the heart and mind of the global corporate system. Every statistic the BBC lady was hoping I might drool on air—that there are more American banks in London than in New York, that German banks employ more people in London than in Frankfurt, that over a third of all currency conversions take place in London, and so on and so forth—is further condemnation for me.

Anyone who regards the City as identical with free market liberalism is deceived or trying to deceive. It is a place where markets clear, and where profit comes from working out returns in fractions of one per cent. It is one of the few places where reality and the textbook world of perfect competition nearly merge. It is, however, a place maintained in being by the scheme of state-granted privilege that is limited liability. At the very best, its activities are useful to protect us from high taxes. But in a world of free societies, there would be no City of London or anything like it.

A further evil of the City brings me back to the non-domiciled rich. Whatever their immunity from income tax, these are people who pay large amounts of indirect tax. They hand this over without much resistance or complaint, and they hand over large amounts. Political quietism plus great wealth is always dangerous to freedom. When the quiet rich are also foreigners, or at least highly mobile, is still worse. They will not protest at any use of their tax money to oppress other people than themselves. The moment their own freedom is infringed, they will retreat to somewhere more congenial.

For all the airs and graces they try to assume, this is what makes the non-domiciled rich different from the old landed aristocracy. Though tiresome in their defence of legal privilege and unearned wealth, these latter were incidentally useful in slowing the rise of big business corporatism. Like the rest of us, they had nowhere to run to, and were by training and inclination the natural leaders of resistance. Roman Abramovich and Madonna are none of these things. They live among us, but are in no sense with us. The same is true for the more anonymous bankers and fund managers who have for the past generation found this country useful as a trading platform. The same is true of the rich in general. Unlike the workers, who may have little else, the rich have no country.

Just about the only very rich foreigner possessed of any public spirit is Mohammed al-Fayed. He expresses that spirit in what may seem an eccentric cause. But he certainly cares something about this country. He is also domiciled here and is subject to the same taxes as the rest of us. Not surprisingly, he is hated and reviled by the establishment media, and has failed to obtain a British passport in an age when these are handed out to any parasite who can hold his place on the underside of a lorry.

In closing, Gordon Brown and his Ministers do not intend to do well by us. They are traitors to us in their external policies, and rapacious tyrants in all their internal dealings. But their desire for short term gain may set us on the path to a better world. And if they are not to be thanked for this, I am not inclined to join in the chorus of disapproval.

Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the
Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 173
4th July 2008

The Third Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society,
Bodrum, May 2008:
A Brief Record
by Sean Gabb

I dreamed last night of the Hotel Karia Princess in Bodrum. I do this perhaps once a week. Last night, though, the dream was unusually vivid. I was walking down the stone steps from the Migros supermarket, a bag in each hand. On my left, at the foot of the step, the taxi drivers were gossiping loud in Turkish and chain smoking. The sun beat down on me from overhead. I could smell the dust of the road and of the aromatic plants all around. Directly across the road, the Hotel shimmered vast and white.

I cannot remember going in through the revolving doors into the cool, marble interior. But as I write, I can imagine the smiles of the reception staff, and the endless loop of the Third Movement of Mozart's Jupiter Symphony, and being called over by Paul Gottfried checking his e-mail, or Justin Raimondo, or by one of the semi-permanent German guests.

It is now two years since my first conference there with the Property and Freedom Society. I got the e-mailed invitation out of the blue from Hans-Hermann Hoppe. How he found me and why he wanted me I have never thought to ask him. But his conference was set to happen in the middle of my summer term, and I was minded at first to send a polite refusal. But I discussed it with Chris Tame as he sat in his hospital bed waiting for death.

"You've got to go, Sean" he had said, looking up from the list of attendees. "Whatever people say about him—and, let's face it, all his enemies are envious windf*ck*rs who don't like us either—Hoppe is the Big Man of the Movement. Now Rothbard is gone, he's it." He brushed aside my whines about teaching commitments, and sent me off to book my ticket.

And so, just over two years ago—after a journey that involved the failed theft of my wallet at Heathrow, and a most civilised encounter with a Turkish customs official who found Chris' Swiss Army knife in my camera bag: the Heathrow machines had failed to spot that!—I found myself sat with Hans beside the Hotel swimming pool, sipping chemical cola and discussing the failed war in Iraq.

Since I wrote at some length about the first Property and Freedom Society Conference, I will avoid repeating myself. But I was back for the second—this time with Mrs Gabb. And I wrote about that one too. This year, I was back for the third—this time not just with Mrs Gabb, but also with the Baby Bear.

And it was an astonishingly good time. I will try not to say more than I already have about the Hotel, beyond that it is the sort of place you read about in novels or—always with nostalgia for what is long past—in the memoirs of people who are or soon will be dead. Bodrum can be a hectic place come June. As the temperature goes about the hundred mark, so the population rises from 30,000 Turks to around two million tourists. Within the Hotel, though, all is quiet; all is ordered; all is, without ostentation, civilised.

The Turkish State, sad to say, had this year decided to flash its European credentials by forbidding smoking in enclosed public spaces. And, to my surprise, the police were showing a certain zeal in enforcing the ban. But when you are used to lighting up outside in the high thirties and the pouring rain of London at any time of year, stepping out into the gardens for a cigarette is hardly worth a moan.

It may be the venue—though I doubt it—but I do believe the Property and Freedom Society is an indispensable part of what Americans call the paleo-libertarian movement. If you think libertarianism is defined by wanting to privatise the paving stones while mouthing politically correct platitudes, these gatherings are not for you. These conferences provide a time and a place where nothing is off limits. There are no forbidden subjects, no polite suggestions that whatever is being loudly debated over dinner by the swimming pool might be "inappropriate". The only rule is the obvious one—that you listen to the other side before making reply.

These are conferences where social conservatives sit down with anarcho-libertarians, where Czechs and Chinese discuss where history went wrong, where English is the preferred language, but a knowledge of half a dozen other languages will frequently come in handy.

They are also conferences useful for what everyone nowadays describes blandly as networking, but what the old Marxists, with a more sinister and accurate turn of phrase, called "cadre building". It is in Bodrum, every May, that the connections and ideas that will be the future of the libertarian movement are first to be perceived.

I will not bother summarising the actual conference speeches. This year, I made video recordings of everything, and have already uploaded it all to Google Video. Of all the sessions, though, I think most people enjoyed the debate over Ron Paul and what he means to the wider Movement outside America—particularly within Europe. Justin Raimondo and Robert Groezinger were particularly eloquent on this.

My own favourite speech was John Lott on guns.  I live in a country where gun ownership has been made into a crime except for the police and the very rich, and where being caught with a peashooter will probably soon carry the same prison sentence as rape. I liked the relentless piling up of cases and the statistical analyses. I will use them myself the next time I go on television to talk about guns. Should I also say that, however degraded it may have become, I am part of a culture that has more respect for proven fact than for elegant hypotheses?

Hans was profound on the nature of the State. Paul Gottfried was at his venomous best about the roots in American Protestantism of political correctness. Mustafa Akyol and Peter Mentzel were interesting on Turkish and late Ottoman history. I was quite good on the nature of financial markets in the ancient world. But, as said, all the speeches are recorded, and—allowances being made for the air conditioning and the public address system—are pretty well recorded.

Let me return to the cadre building. I knew we were in for a good conference when Paul Gottfried walked into the hotel lobby, his bags carried behind him. He threw a benevolent glance at the Baby Bear and then demanded of me the aorist of χαίρω.

"Εχαίρα? Εχαίρον?" I hazarded. He gave a contemptuous sniff that I really should investigate, and asked if I could help him connect to the Internet. Over dinner, he went into full flow—in two languages denouncing the Germans for their gutless historical masochism. Perhaps they were to blame for 1939: it is at least arguable. But 1914? he sneered. That was at most a no fault car crash. And some Germans are even blaming themselves for 1870!

Then there was Justin Raimondo. I first discovered his writings during the Iraq War, when large stretches of the British and American libertarian movements had come together and agreed what fine things maiming and killing and torturing were when called "assisted regime change". It was good to find someone even more forthright in his condemnation than I was of the neo-imperialist project. I rather envied the fear and loathing I discovered he could inspire in all the right people. I greatly admired his biography of Murray Rothbard—it is a model of how to summarise and judge the life of a turbulent intellectual. Now we were together in Bodrum, there was all the time in the world for getting to know each other, and for argument and debate.

Narrating all that we covered in ten days as we puffed away in the open would take a short novel. But one recurring argument was over the coming Presidential elections in America. Justin supports Barack Obama, which is fair enough, bearing in mind the only alternatives at the time were a geriatric warmonger and a venomous old harpy. But he also believed Mr Obama could win. I accept I know little of America, but I was unable to agree. "Whatever they tell the pollsters" I kept insisting, "the American people will not vote in sufficient numbers to elect a black man as President. Our only hope of avoiding war with Iran is for the money to run out in Washington."

Another discussion that stays prominent in my memory is towards the end of the conference. It was late, and there just a few of us sat at a table beside the swimming pool with Gülçin Imre, the owner of the Hotel—since last year, she has been Gülçin Hoppe. After a general conversation, we focussed on happiness. Rather, we focussed on why so many people in the rich world appear to be unhappy. Most people no longer die at absurdly young ages. Most people do not see half their children cough and sweat their way to early graves. We all have enough to eat. We have soap and water and warm clothes. We have an endless succession of shiny electronic toys to divert us. In another decade or so, what we have now will doubtless seem as inadequate as MSDOS and video cassettes now do to us. But we already live in something approximating the utopia of the early twentieth century science fiction writers.

So why so much unhappiness? Why are the streets of every Western city teeming with plainly bored and aimless sheep of every age and condition? Was it always this way? We agreed that it probably was not. Most of us were old enough to remember a time when there seemed to be more quiet contentment, even though there was much less in the material sense to be contented with.

No one thought to raise the silly old argument that wealth and happiness are and must be inversely related. I can understand that the rich have generally tried to impose, and the poor have too often taken comfort in, the belief that three meals a day and the chance of living past thirty five are to be pitied rather then envied. But I see no reason whatever for sharing the belief. Certainly, some of the people round that table were rather well off, and were not obviously unhappy. Speaking for myself, I have been moderately embarrassed in the financial sense, and moderately comfortable; and I know which state for me is more conducive to happiness.

We did briefly touch on whether mass enrichment has been accompanied by a loss of freedom and of identity. Very few people may want to do any of the things that have been banned over the past century. But everyone is in some sense aware of the immense structures of guardianship that shape our lives. And everyone to some extent has noticed the rise of a new and utterly malevolent ruling class, that enriches and privileges itself behind a palisade of words about "equality" and "diversity" and "tolerance".

What more interested us, however, was whether happiness in the long term is not so much about bodily pleasures and material consumption as about being able to follow some self-chosen mission. What mission each person might choose will depend on his inclinations and general abilities. For one, it might be bringing up children in a respectable family home, or building a successful business. For another, it might be collecting classifying every species of butterfly in the Falkland Islands. For someone else, it might be understanding and opposing the ambitions of our new ruling class. Whatever mission is chosen, it gives meaning to life. Anything short of catastrophic failure gives some protection against becoming just another of those depressed, apathetic sheep in the street.

Nothing novel here, of course. But it was a good conversation, in good company. And it was a conversation this part of the world must have heard many times before. The cities of Asia Minor seem to have been places where Epicurus and his philosophy were always particularly honoured.

Yes, it always for me comes back to the ancient world. Modern Turkey, the Ottoman Empire and Byzantium all have much to commend them. But I can never go to the Mediterranean without feeling the endlessly renewed thrill of realisation that it was here where the human race went through one of its two great enlightenments; and that this particular enlightenment was wholly spontaneous. Miletus, the birthplace of scientific rationalism, is just a drive up the coast. Cos is a ferry ride away. Barely anything remains in modern Bodrum of Halicarnassus. But you can stand on the beach at sunrise, and ask if it was here that Herodotus once stood, looking out to sea and wondering what lay beyond the horizon....

There is much else I could mention about the conference and its attendant comforts—the belly dancers, the boat trips, the visit to Ephesus, and the opportunity for sitting down with intelligent Turks to discuss what it is really like to live in the most dynamic and interesting country in the whole Mediterranean. But I will not do more than mention these things. If you are really interested, contact Professor Hoppe, and try to find out for yourself.

And so, for the third time running, I commend the Bodrum conference of the Property and Freedom Society. Any libertarian or conservative who has not managed to secure an invitation at least once is very much to be pitied.