Libertarians v Traditionalist Conservatives: A Frank but Very Polite Debate (2013)

On Friday the 1st February 2013, a debate took place at The Counting House, which is a pub at the junction of Gracechurch Street and Cornhill in the City of London. The question was How to be a Conservative in 21st Century Britain.

Sean Gabb spoke for the Libertarian Alliance. Sam Swerling spoke for the Swinton Circle. Their speeches were followed by a lively question and answer session.

Dr Gabb made these points:

  • That sweeping consitutional and other changes since 1997 have made it impossible to be a conservative in the old sense;
  • That a modern conservative must be a revolutionary – that he must first pull down the existing order of things and then establish a new order of things worth defending;
  • That this new order of things must be heavily libertarian, and its creation must involve reaching out far beyond the normal traditionalist communities, to make often unusual alliances.

Sam Swerling agreed with much of this general analysis, but argued that a more wholly traditionalist reconstruction remained possible.

The questions and answers involved debate over the following:

  • The relegalisation of drugs;
  • The relegalisation of guns;
  • Gay marriage;
  • The European Union;
  • Eugenics

This was a long and honest exchange of views between people from somewhat different traditions. It was conducted in a notably friendly spirit.

Note on the Recording

Sean Gabb recorded the debate on his Samsung notebook computer, using a Behringer C-1U USB microphone. This microphone is highly directional, and almost completely excluded the background noise from a busy pub in the City on a Friday night. However, it also failed to pick up all the questions from the floor, and these questions must be largely reconstructed from the answers.


Sean Gabb, Director of the Libertarian Alliance, speaking on BBC Radio 4 on the 22nd January 2013.

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