Being a rather lazy person about everything except thinking, I love to think about how to ensure that the few feeble bursts of libertarian effort I manage to put in every few days actually have some beneficial impact. The well known link between fondness for strategy and fondness for sitting in armchairs is no mere coincidence.
So I was delighted when Alex Singleton chose, for the talk he gave at my most recent last-Friday-of-the-month meeting in my London SW1 home (email me if you want to be notified of future events in this infinite series), the subject of libertarian tactics and strategy, winning the ideological war for libertarianism, etc. etc. (Like me, Alex continues to use the L-word.)
Despite the word war being in the title it was a relaxed and good humoured evening, and not just because Alex is a relaxed and good humoured person, although that helped. More importantly, Alex is optimistic about the difference that free, self-controlling and even self-funded individuals or tiny groups of individuals can make to the libertarian cause. Because of that, he felt no urge to lay out a master libertarian strategy which all must be commanded, which in practice means begged, to sign up to. We were presented with no Big Central Plan for Libertarian Success. Which makes sense, given that we are so suspicious about Big Central Plans for other things.
Alex made much of that familiar scenario where there exists a universal statist consensus, which one individual then breaks. Peter Bauer breaks the consensus that Foreign Aid is an automatically Good Thing. Terence Kealey breaks the consensus that in the modern world Pure Science must be funded by the government in order to proceed satisfactorily. E. G. West breaks the consensus that The State was responsible for the rise of mass literacy and mass education in the now rich world, and that without State funding for mass education, mass education would cease.
In his own recent line of business, Alex and his small group of collaborators at the International Policy Network have been busily helping to chip away at the widely held belief – nothing like universal in this case (thanks e.g. to Peter Bauer) – that “globalisation” in general, and international free trade in particular, is a bad and scary thing, and that the only answer is a gigantic global tax system. (Not all globalisation is bad, it would seem.) A huge number of delegates can assemble for some international drone-fest in some First World enclave in the Third World, but it only takes a quite small number of cunning activists to piss very visibly into the consensual soup that is served up on such occasions, if only because the media do so love an argument. Free Trade bad? Just find a handful of local Third World farmers who love Free Trade and whose only complaint about it is that there isn’t more of it, tell all the media about them, and take some good photos of them and stick them up on the Internet.
The Internet has helped all this tremendously, as I surely don’t need to say here but will anyway, by putting professional presentation and idea-spreading into the hands of individuals and small groups, who now need only to be canny operators with the gift of the gab. Appropriately enough, Alex is about to start another job with another quite small group of schemers, namely the Adam Smith Institute (he’s already their blogmeister), who are likewise regularly assumed by those familiar with their ideas and impact but not with their working conditions to be a whole lot bigger and grander and better funded than they really are.
Plenty more of interest got said by those present, but that will do as a first reaction to a most convivial evening. I meant to stick this up on Saturday morning, but got diverted from doing that by not doing it. Luckily, there are some ideas in this world that are good enough to last a few days, the significance of individual and small team action definitely being one of them.