The main differences between a British libertarian gathering and an American one is the attitude towards foreign affairs and their own governments. During the Cold War many American libertarians, Murray Rothbard especially, denounced the US federal government’s attempts to “encircle” Communism, build alliances, station troops in Europe etc.
Most British libertarians, being somewhat closer to the Iron Curtain, and feeling that the English Channel might not be a huge obstacle to the Asiatic hordes of the Red Army, were rather happier with the presence of large, well equipped armies. We also took a more relaxed view of state violations of individual rights when the persons concerned were Communists, pro-Soviet peace protesters or “useful idiots” who acted spontaneously in a manner which would have delighted Stalin, Hitler or Napoleon.
We tended to admire the antics of the security services as they “bugged and burgled their way across London”. Some of us cheered when police officers on horseback smashed their way through ranks of protesting miners in 1984. I know no one in British libertarian circles who wondered if it might not be our turn some day, although Sean Gabb came closest.
The gloom among British libertarians today is partly the result of the realisation that now the apparatus of state oppression is randomly destroying people’s lives like in the final chapters of “Atlas Shrugged”.
But there is something particularly awful about the gloom engulfing British libertarians. No one born in the mainland of the United Kingdom and alive today has ever seen a group of police officers march up a residential street, knocking at selected doors and leading families away to some awful fate. Yet in every other member state of the European Union except Finland and Sweden, the are people who remember watching their neighbours being taken away. In the case of recent refugees from the former Yugoslavia, such memories may be very recent indeed.
The problem for British libertarians is that they aren’t really used to the idea that the state really is our enemy. This is one reason why I don’t think that the UK withdrawing from the European Union is an automatic recipe for joy.