We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

180 degrees in 8 years

John Louis Swaine wrote in with an interesting piece about his own ‘road to Damascus’. “It took approximately 8 years to move from being a Labourite teenager to a Libertarian at the age of 23. I used to blog quite a lot so I felt the urge to write something about it. Since the Samizdata weblog has been one of the most important contributing factors for this change, I thought I would submit it to you.”

Most people have a “Summer of ’69” they can relate to; a magic period of youthful exuberance, tempered by important life experiences and left to bake softly in the warmth of the July sun. Mine was in 2001, I was 16 and beginning to ask the bigger questions about society and life.

I had opinions, I suddenly cared about issues. Like virtually every young person I came to the conclusion that equality was of paramount importance and that the only means by which to achieve it was through the prescription of schemes and initiatives by Government. After all, is that not what my generation had been taught? The importance of civil duty, of taking part in the organs of governance and through them making life better for your fellow man?

I dutifully signed up to the Observer brigade. Things could change, things could be fixed and crucially, the fix was always within the grasp of Government.

I did have the benefit of a decent grounding in knowledge of markets. I rather suspect you cannot have spent a significant amount of time growing up in Hong Kong without absorbing it – capitalism and free markets are in the air there, mixed in amongst the toxic levels of pollutants and exhaust fumes. Your chances of developing lung cancer or respiratory disorders may be high but you will also assimilate at least some understanding of how a financial system works.

Tony Blair’s governing ideology therefore seemed intoxicating – using the state to care for one’s fellow man whilst reforming the public sector and embracing free markets. Everything fitted nicely into place.

The first cracks in my political viewpoint began to appear on the 11th of September, 2001… Following the terrorist attacks in New York and subsequent UNSC Resolutions authorizing the use of force to depose the Taliban in Afghanistan, I read daily in my newspapers of the horrors of warfare in Afghanistan. The US, it seems, were doomed. If the might of the Soviet Empire could not conquer the nation, then surely the US would be bogged down into a quagmire of small arms fire and disappearing assailants.

Within a month of beginning their assault the US had demolished the Taliban’s standing army, on November 12th the Taliban fled Kabul and a military victory was imminent. The emperor had no clothes.

I read the Observer and the Guardian less and less and instead migrated to the Times. However I retained my same staunch belief in the struggle for an egalitarian society through Government. I wrote a political blog and had quite a bit of traffic. I moved to London to read Law and joined the Labour party. I was ultimately quite satisfied with the way in which the United Kingdom was being run and governed.

During my study for my degree I took a particular interest in Constitutional Law and received a 1st for the module, my lecturer asked me to perform some extra research for one of his upcoming books on Civil Liberties and I happily accepted. The history of the British ‘constitution’ was enthralling and I began to get a real sense for what it meant to be British.

We were a people who lived under the Magna Carta, whose parliament established the ground rules for modern day governance, and who time and time again, took up arms in defence of liberty. We had little time for despots, deposing one and then giving up on the other’s ridiculous dictatorship the moment he passed on. Through all of this, a current of individual liberty ran strong. The Common Law is a marvellous thing and leafing through its enormity was like gazing up at the shadowed spires of a Cathedral from the inside.

I watched the Labour party’s reforms shudder to a halt. Where there were steps taken towards decentralization in Foundation Hospitals, the Government took several back in other areas of public life. Government began to balloon. I grimaced as grown men and women on the Labour back benches complained that businessmen from the private healthcare sector had been given posts within the NHS – heavens forbid those who have proven themselves in competitive healthcare markets should be given the reigns of a Hospital.

I had the good fortune of attending a Grammar school for two years after passing the 11+. As a young adult, the ‘debate’ surrounding Grammars disgusted me. My school (Colchester Grammar) had certainly not been a haven for rich boys whose family could afford “tutors”. Amongst all my classmates I was unquestionably the most affluent, being the son of a successful barrister. My friends were almost universally drawn from the working class, with one or two hailing from the lower middle classes. I do not think I knew of one boy at that school who was ‘privileged’.

What people objected to, it seems, was not that this ‘free’ schooling system existed, but rather that it meant someone, somewhere out there was getting a better education than someone else. This was not a cry for equality of opportunity, this was a demand that no child aspire to or achieve better than anyone else his age. The gifted should remain amongst the rest, to be held back to ensure that they did not get too far ahead or somehow to drag their classmates towards better academic achievement. Anyone who has attended a school in which they have exceeded the academic capability of their classmates knows that this is a patent fallacy. Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” has special significance for those of us who have, we know what it feels like to be kept in a system for arbitrary reasons, which limits your liberty and traps you within the confines of what is deemed to be ‘average’.

I drifted towards the centre of the political spectrum and no longer called myself “centre-left” or “Blairite”. However it was not until about 3 weeks ago that I came to my final realization. The writers with whom I agree most tacitly: Hemlock, Glenn Reynolds, the contributors to Samizdata are libertarian to a man.

They are not simulacra of Ebineezer Scrooge, they all believe that society should be fair, they just disagree vehemently with the notion that such a task should be left to the state, or indeed that the state is in any way capable of achieving this goal. Charities and NGOs perform consistently better than public initiatives designed to carry out analogous tasks.

It was this realization that was the final catalyst: caring about your fellow man and opposing the works of the state in achieving that goal are NOT mutually exclusive political creeds.

I’ve lived in a society in which there is no capital gains tax, no tax on dividends, an extremely low income rate (16%) and a streamlined civil service under the full protection of British Jurisprudence. Guess what? It was a great society! Crime was low, the streets were well kept and the tasks, which Government is necessary to perform were carried out perfectly adequately. The Government did not need to pick up Inland Revenue like a dust-buster and hoover up half my money each year to achieve it! It had followed a Laissez-Faire industrial policy for generations and had been a free-market economy since its creation.

I speak of Hong Kong pre-1997 and I can not believe it took so long for me to see how competent such a system was.

Sure it had an ID card system, but it was across the border from a billion people doing their damnedest to escape a barbaric communist dictatorship and had an immigration crisis on its hands. The card is now tied into the Drivers License so it’s not an arbitrary extra bit of identification you need to carry around and works as a passport for HK immigration. Most importantly since the state is not hell-bent on interfering with every single facet of your life, it generally does not seem so odious.

One of the arguments made for ID cards in the United Kingdom is that the state is not some malign force as in other countries so it can be trusted with an extra means of keeping tabs on its populace but this is akin to saying that the pit bull about to ravage your arm is not in fact a carrier of rabies like the one across the street, so it’s all right to put down your handgun. If the state wants an ID card from me, it can bloody well start behaving a lot more like its former colonial charge.

Why, when all the evidence available points to the same facts – Free Markets perform better than regulated ones, US States with more lax gun control laws have lower rates of violent crime that ones which do not, Charities and NGOs are more efficient than public sector bodies etc – do we insist on following the ideas which have proven, in the past 100 years, to be complete and utter hogwash?

Banal though it may be, I remember playing SimCity 2000 as a teenager on my computer. Every time I tried to set up a high-tax, high-service economy within my city, my economy, followed by the city itself, stagnated. The answers have been staring me in the face for years.

Yesterday I cut up my Labour party membership card and cancelled my standing order to the party. When asked about my political affiliation a few days ago, I answered “libertarian” and somehow the world made a great deal more sense.

As I pondered this matter and resolved to write this piece, I concluded that I had taken far too long to realize what was in front of my nose, yet the sobering reality is that this left-to-liberty transition is typically played out over the course of a lifetime. How many 40 year old Labourites are there still in this world? I believe I’ve been remarkably fortunate, I have the means to concentrate my personal wealth under a low tax regime and now have the intention of doing so. I can still make the world a better place like my 16 year old self wanted and more importantly I can do it without stuffing the paycheck of 40 inefficient public sector bureaucrats. All that at age 23? I have got a bright future to look forward to and perhaps with the growth of libertarianism, my children will too.

42 comments to 180 degrees in 8 years

  • Dude, good call. My girlfriend is in the Labour Party – you need to give me some tips on how to appeal to her psychology!

    You do realise though that this will rob you of the chance to spend your 40s discussing how ‘radical’ (i.e. wrong) you were in your 20s.

  • countingcats

    John Louis Swaine

    Welcome to reality.

  • llamas

    Well thought, well said, well done.



  • Kit

    I don’t know who said this first:

    If you are not a socialist at 20 you do not have a heart.
    If you are a socialist at 40 you do not have a brain.

  • Nick M

    Churchill, I think. I think it was 30, not 40.

  • Congratulations. I made a similar transition from 15-20. From communist, to left-wing anarchist, to libertarian. I’m just glad I’ve had the intellectual honesty to accept when I’m wrong, and the curiosity to keep searching for truth.

  • RAB

    Exceedingly well written.
    Welcome aboard.
    The example of pre 1997 Hong Kong really aught to be used more often as an example of small functional Government.
    I for one, have never known the details of Hong Kongs governance and tax system. Thanks for that.
    Most folk regarded it as just a Colony and therefore automatically bad.

  • Took me a while longer than 23, but who wasn’t once a socialist hippie?

    On the head/heart quotation, various versions and attributions exist, but Churchill is almost certainly wrong. Odd how the most common culprits for quotations — Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill — are also the people whose writings and speeces are very well-documented 🙂

    The most likely source appears to be Georges Clemenceau, who once said, “My son is 22 years old. If he had not become a Communist at 22, I would have disowned him. If he is still a Communist at 30, I will do it then.”

    Wikiquote summarises the attribution debate nicely.

  • “Took me a while longer than 23, but who wasn’t once a socialist hippie?”

    Me. I wasn’t. No commie ever laid an intellectual finger on me.

    It was written: “You do realise though that this will rob you of the chance to spend your 40s discussing how ‘radical’ (i.e. wrong) you were in your 20s.”

    Believe me, John: you won’t miss it.

  • This fellow appears to have done a fair amount of research on the providence of the quotation in question.

  • Dale Amon

    Welcome to the Light Side!

    I too started off my journey from confused radical left to an AHA moment when I realized I’d always been a libertarian but it had not been invented yet.

    Thank god they founded the LP in 1976 and saved my soul! 😉

  • Evan

    Well, libertarianism gives you the chance to be both radical AND right. What could be more radical in modern Britain than believing in minimal government and individual rights?

  • Jez B

    < <... but who wasn't once a socialist hippie?>> – Ivo


    At age 15 I read PJ O’Rourke’s ‘Republican Party Reptile’. At 16 I started A level Economics. Then it all fell into place.

    Government is bad and its interference only distorts the market, which is the most efficient means of distributing goods and services.

  • Resident Alien

    When I was ten I started collecting twenty pence pieces; I thought this would help Margaret Thatcher reduce the money supply.

  • Millie Woods

    Nobody mentions the fact that the underlying philosophy of socialism is super-elitist a sort of do as I say not as I do approach combined with joy in suffering for the common good.
    Wasn’t it Keynes who said in the long run we are all dead? It was definitely Tom Lehrer who quipped once the rockets are up who cares where they come down – that’s not my department says Wehrner von Braun. Not facing consequences is one aspect of elitist drivel and sticking to failed systems is another.
    In Quebec where I lived and worked failure of programs was always shrugged off as les reglements sont les reglements – translation – don’t buck the idiotic system.
    Libertarians have a can do, give it a try approach to life in general while left leaners are control freaks at best disaster producers at worst.

  • I wonder how many of us there are out there?

    I was still reading the Guardian and Independent at 23, it wasn’t till I discovered blogging and stumbled (literally not in the stumbleupon sense, though I did end up here stumbling for the first time the other day, congratulations.) on Samizdata. I started reading and haven’t looked back, thank you all for that.

    I’ve managed to make it to this point of view before I hit 30 (today btw :P) so at least I’ve either got a brain or am not about to be disowned, or both.

  • Flag Waving American

    It’s so easy to be a socialist/communist when you’re 19. When have you ever had any money to begin with?? You leave your parents house and enter college full of youthful idealism which is only fostered by college professors who are essentially college students that never grew up.

    Well then you turn 30 and it hits you.. Hey I get up everyday and go to a job I can barely tolerate and the government wants 42.7% of my paycheck to pay for social welfare programs that essentially reward people for doing the absolute minimum they could be doing to be a productive member of society.

    “Here’s $2000, now don’t sell drugs or steal anything”

    The socialists in Sweden believe that a guy who paid for his education by pulling the guts out of chickens for 4 years and works everyday deserves the same standard of living as his buddy who was kicked out of college for smoking pot and drinking too much and now spends his days collecting welfare checks and running a self-hating, anti-American blog.

    After a while the hard-working people of your country stop trying because personal advancement is made impossible. You have horrendous unemployment and people will go on strike if you try to make them work more than 35 hours per week with a 3 hour lunch break.. Disgusting..

    Socialism sounds good and it makes you feel good about yourself, but it isn’t fair and it doesn’t work!!! There is very little crime in Sweden because the Swedish pay people not to be criminals. They brag about their economy and their crime rates, but they are absolutely irrelevant to world affairs and their continued existence is entirely dependent on the goodwill of the evil warmongering Anglo-Saxons to protect them.

    And as for Communism.. well, Communism has killed no less than 50,000,000 human beings who had the nerve to be deemed undesirable by the government.

    Why would we ever have the nerve to try to fight Communism??

    Anyway, buddy we’re glad you grew up and have seen the light..

  • That saying about being a communist at age 20, but sobering up by 30 actually says: young people are necessarily dumb, most grow wise by 30.
    Those who think this is true – raise your hands.

    I think most people who are dumb in youth stay dumb at all ages. It is also said, that scientists do their best work before they are 30. Also, conversions aren’t that common.
    So, it’s only a quip, not profound wisdom.

  • renminbi

    The people were who ran Hong Kong were not elected and had no mandate, but they did have a conscience unlike your EU whores ; it just didn’t seem right to do more than the minimum needed to maintain order.

  • Flag Waving American

    “young people are necessarily dumb, most grow wise by 30”

    Not necessarily dumb, but you don’t have any money at 20 and most people you know don’t either so the idea of everyone being equal is pleasing..

    It takes about 10 years for you to fight and scratch your way through the “real world” and you realize that people are born equal, but you cannot expect equal results by the time you die..

  • John thanks for sharing your experience with us. (At the risk of sounding a bit new-age and wanky) “life is journey”, and Libertarianism ought not to be an intellectual destination providing answers to all questions, it a way of looking at the world, nothing more. I find that my precise views change daily, as I learn new things, and think more deeply about what I already know. I describe myself as a Libertarian (although Classical Liberal might be more accurate) because my view of things is informed by two facts:
    (1) I am a very limited being; there is a vast amount about this world that I do not know.
    (2) I am a fallible being; I am often wrong about many things, even when I am certain I am right.

    Put this together with a belief that it wrong to force anyone to do anything without extraordinary justification, and you get my view of the world. Just a few:
    * People are individuals and should be considered as such; not as ciphers for a social class, or sex, or race, or some other abstraction.
    * Just because I find someone’s preferences bizarre or they seem to me to be self-destructive does not give me the right to force them to behave in a certain way.
    * Society is a very complicated thing, and while government programmes will definitely affect it, it is more than likely to behave in a way you do not understand and did not predict or intend.
    * We are all personally responsible for all our actions, even though our likelihood of behaving in one way rather than another is definitely a product of our genes and our environment, the first of which we have no control over, and the second of which we have only limited control over.
    * There is no objective standard against which to measure social outcomes.

    I’m sure there are plenty of people who could pick holes in that list, please be my guest.

    As far as reading goes, there is of course Hayek and Popper, but I would also advise anyone to read about Kurt Godel, and the developments in the foundations of maths that took place in the first half of the twentieth century, and how that work linked into and was developed further in theories of computation – in particular in exploring the limits of what can be computed (this stuff also links back into the late nineteenth century work of Cantor, which is also well worth exploring). I am a Mathematician by training, and while I was never a socialist my own foolish adolescent belief was that the whole of life the universe and everything could be described in mathematics. I can still recall the palpable emotion shock I got on reading about Godel’s theorem, and it completely changed my intellectual development, very much for the better.

    I know this sounds like a complete tangent, but it is closely linked to the discussion topic. Socialism is – along side Fascism – the modernist conception of how our political lives should be organised. Likewise Hilbert’s programme to axiomatize mathematics is the modernist conception of mathematics. Both are basically an attempt to capture some aspect of life in a simple, well understood, and so easily manipulated way. Both are of course completely wrong – life is more complicated than that. Godel’s theorem shows that you can’t capture mathematics in a few simple easily understood axioms – and if you can’t do that for something as well defined as mathematics what hope have you of doing it for anything else?

    Godel’s theorem is the truth, but its a truth about our ignorance – it tells us what we cannot know. I look on Libertarianism as the political equivalent. It is a statement about the limits of what it is possible and morally justifiable to do politically, rather than a positive statement about what should be done. I think this is the main difference between Liberals and authoritarians, and the fundamental difference in the claims made by Liberalism, and Socialism not being understood properly is the main reason why most discussions between supporters of the two views just ends up in everyone talking past everyone else.

    If you’re going to try an convince someone that Libertarianism is true then this is the line to take. Libertarianism is about intellectual humility – knowing what you do not and cannot know, combined with the moral preference for co-operation over coercion.

  • John Louis Swaine

    Wow, lots of comments.

    Thanks for the words of encouragement. Robert’s last comment was particularly interesting and one I agree with wholeheartedly.

    I think it’s the abdication from personal responsibility which has been the most disturbing result of Socialism now that I look back at it.

    If the state deigns to take responsibility for many aspects of a person’s life, a lot of people will simply take that for granted. Parenting today is emblematic of this problem. It’s presented constantly by society as a simple task when in times passed, no one took it lightly.

    I worked as an Exam Invigilator last year and spending time inside comprehensive schools was a real eye-opener. Parents expected schools to be day-care centres – many asked for them to remain open till 6pm to look after their children. They took no responsibility for their children’s behaviour and saw nothing wrong with effectively shrugging the mantle of parenthood onto the school (many insisted that if a child was at school it was school’s problem if that child misbehaved).

    It is economically necessary for many couples to both work and leave a child to spend more than 70% of its day in the care of publicly funded daycare centres.

    In order to afford the cost of living in a state with a staggeringly onerous tax burden, you have you leave the upbringing of your child to a public sector institution who’s funding is achieved how? That’s right, by means of increasing that tax burden.

    It’s astonishing how often self-perpetuating cycles like these crop up.

    The more we remove responsibility from individuals, the less responsible they themselves become and the worse society is for it.

    People can take whatever drugs they want, marry whoever they want and live their lives the way they want to. I’m tired of political thinking which prescribes acceptable patterns of behaviour for matters which are entirely within the purview of ones own individual liberty.

  • countingcats

    Welcome to the Light Side!


    On the basis of attitudes expressed by both the left and the right, in joining us –

    Welcome to the Dark Side!

  • countingcats

    Robert Scarth.

    Libertarianism is about intellectual humility – knowing what you do not and cannot know, combined with the moral preference for co-operation over coercion

    Wow, I like that. “Libertarianism is about intellectual humility”

    Can I use it?

  • Coupla hours late but … happy birthday mandrill.

  • James

    That saying about being a communist at age 20, but sobering up by 30 actually says: young people are necessarily dumb, most grow wise by 30.
    Those who think this is true – raise your hands.

    I think most people who are dumb in youth stay dumb at all ages. It is also said, that scientists do their best work before they are 30. Also, conversions aren’t that common.
    So, it’s only a quip, not profound wisdom.

    Intelligence is not wisdom, many intelligent people have been seduced by the false rationality of ‘scientific’ Marxism and many who are ‘dumb’ have with simple clarity of thought seen straight through it. It is not only the simple minded that need fear deception.

  • Nick M

    Happy Birthday Mandrill. Hope it was better than mine. I woke-up in a kneeling position on the floor with my head on the sofa. Turning thirty was bad but then it wasn’t. It was just a number.

    John Louis Swaine,
    Ah, yes. The old “socialism is the cure for all the ills of socialism” thing. You are 100% right except, it isn’t a cycle, it’s a helix, the burden keeps on rising.

    Robert Scarth,
    You go off on tangents and limits and mention Godel. If they cut you up they would find the word “Mathematician” printed through you like Blackpool rock. Your comment reeks of mathematics. Hats off to you! Godel is extremely humbling in an exhilarating way. I’m basically a physicist by training but I smoked a little formal logic along the way and I did inhale. I also have a nodding acquaintance with Georg Cantor. Infinity and Godel’s Incompleteness Theorems are good for the soul. They’re just beautiful. The point at which I got infinite set theory was just transcendental. It’s just WOW! It’s like when I got Quantum Mechanics or read Borges for the first time. The Earth moves and nothing is the same again. You just feel you can see the Universe all at once and you know it’s secret and yet you are not the centre*. It’s the feeling I get when I look at the stars. It’s just freedom. I am so dragging the ‘scope out tonight.

    I would advise any (non-specialist) to read Rudy Rucker’s Infinity & the Mind if they want to know more about these flat-out fascinating subjects. It gets a little technical but it’s a great little book. It introduced me to Jorge Luis Borges and, well, just read it.

    *I paraphrase someone here, I forget who, but it is now part of the tradition which is a very Borgesian sentiment.

  • Intelligence is not wisdom, many intelligent people have been seduced by the false rationality of ‘scientific’ Marxism

    Maybe they weren’t that intelligent to begin with…

    Young people absorb their views from their parents, teachers and friends. At some time they think for themselves, and start to sort out all they have been told, and what they are reading and seeing. It happens way before 30, way before 20 even.

  • RAB

    In my youth, there was the saying:-

    Never trust anyone over 30.

  • Midwesterner

    I spent until the age of 26 accumulating more and more doubts. Starting as young as preschool even, I began to doubt things I was told (accountability for what we choose to believe was taught in our family) and at the age of 25, I went on strike against society and didn’t even realize that was what I had done.

    I spent a year enjoying myself and reading. But eventually, the summer I turned 26, I had read enough that I wanted a challenging or even threatening book to read. A good friend of mine had, in passing, told me that Atlas Shrugged was a plan written as plot to take over the world or something like that and that it was held dear by all manner of rather diabolical sorts of people. He had never read the book, he was repeating what he had been told.

    I checked it out of the library and read it very slowly, thoughtfully and recursively (mostly mentally, but sometimes actually re-reading a section but with the new meta-context in place.) It took me an entire week of nothing but eating sleeping reading and thinking.

    Epiphany. What I compare it to is trying to work a jigsaw puzzle of something unknown. Many pieces I had fit together and little vignettes were apparent, but I did not have the big picture. Atlas Shrugged was the picture on the puzzle box that helped me to fit together what I already knew for myself, but fit it in a way that hadn’t occurred to me. I didn’t have to take Ayn Rand’s opinion for anything. What I have is my own opinion reached by testing her meta-context.

    Welcome home. That’s how I felt when I found Samizdata.

  • Nick M

    Well, I went off on one about maths and forgot the dull socio-political-economics stuff. Mid nails it for me, and I suspect for others, in his final paragraph.

    I had flirted with Conservatism but I’m too cool for that! I was kicking about looking looking for something that validated my intuitions and turned them into a logical structure and on Samizdata I found it. I also found much, much more. I wouldn’t have even known what a Libertarian was without it.

    Do you think it’s odd that an educated bloke like me had never heard of Libertarianism?

  • Millie Woods

    Nick M, I had the pleasure of meeting Borges some years ago when I first taught linguistics at Concordia University in Montreal. Our department was known as CLAMODL – an imaginative acronym for all of us odds and sods who taught classics, modern languages and linguistics respectively.
    One of the Spanish profs was the son of an Anglican clergyman who had been sent to Argentina where his family grew up speaking Spanish of course. That was the Argentinian connection that brought Borges to us.
    By the way do you know one of Borges’ short stories The Babylon Lottery? It predates Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery by several years and while it is has much more depth than the Jackson story and has the usual Borges fantastic realism there are distinct echoes in The Lottery. Since nothing Shirley Jackson wrote before The Lottery or after for that matter and since her husband was a Spanish professor at Bennington College in Vermont whose speciality was Latin American literature I’ve always had evil suspicions.

  • Paul Marks

    I missed out on this life changing experience because I have always been “on the right”. No heart at all, my blood, or rather icewater, just goes round my system out of simple nastyness – no pump.

    Even at junior school I can remember a nasty dispute with the teachers over the “distribution” of food. They had said we were to ask for food from our parents for a party so we could “share it with our friends” – then they tried to steal my food and give it to my enemies.

    To cut the story short, just think of me as like Cartman from “Southpark” – accept that I was not overweight.

    However, my opinions on some things have changed over time.

    For example, I was quite a drug warrior as a boy – largely because I thought that drugs robbed people of a lot of their rationality (via the process of addiction) and that drug dealers were scum. I think it was as late as about 1980 before I suddenly thought both it really was none of my business – and that the statutes did not work anyway.

    I still think both that addiction makes it harder for people to have their reason control their passions, and that drug dealers are scum. I just do not do anything about anymore – I could say “nothing coercive”, but really I just do not do anything.

  • I speak of Hong Kong pre-1997 and I can not believe it took so long for me to see how competent such a system was.

    Does the reference to “pre-1997” mean that you think Hong Kong has changed dramatically since then? It feels to me that the good thing is that the Chinese do not appear to have ruined it yet and the system seems still intact, but you undoubtedly know it better than I do. I am always overwhelmed by the vitality of the place myself. The point about the 16% income tax and necessary services still being provided needs to be emphasised over and over again. The fact that the much higher tax bases in Europe and America produce no apparent benefits and merely are used to pay off a parasite class (by which I mean people who work for the government, largely) needs to be emphasised over and over again. (The 16% is an income tax based on a much narrower definition of “income” than in virtually any other jurisdiction, too. And there is no sales tax or VAT either. So it is even better than it initially sounds).

    But, if we are talking about our journeys, I was brought up to be a socialist. In my teens and twenties I discovered I had one or two odd views for a socialist, like for instance that I was opposed to state sanctioned marriage and that I was outraged by the TV licence fee, I thought the BBC should be abolished, I was an absolutist on free speech, and I was in favour of open borders and free trade. I was also very pro-enlightenment and pro-technology, and much of the left is in truth anti-modernity and anti-enlightenment. So in truth I was always a libertarian, but it took me some time to figure out what that was. (One American friend of mine made a “yes, Michael, you always were” comment when I later described myself as a libertarian).

    As for my opinion of the left, this went from my thinking I was one of them to my thinking that they were well-intentioned but wrong, to my realising that they were my enemy. It was actually the Seattle WTO protests in 1999 that was the key moment, I think. Many of the very globalised anti-globalisation movement think of this as a key moment for them. Well, it was a key moment for me, too.

  • JLS, well done! 🙂

    And to do it so early, too. My own journey from Marxoid Bolshevist to Austrian Anarchist took over 35 years, so in some ways I reckon you’ve had it a little too easy. You really ought to have suffered a little more! 😉

    But the real question is, are you ready for the hard stuff yet?

  • Nick M

    Course I know that story! How very dare you ask! On the subject of literary influence… If I ever meet Martin Amis I will casually drop into the conversation the fact he pretty much stole an entire paragraph from “Funes the Memorious” and stuck into “Other People”. That was published about ’81 and Borges wasn’t well known in the UK at the time. In fact I don’t think he’s that well known now…

    This is extremely sad. No, it’s pathetic. I have met people who have actually read James Joyce (and liked it) but have never bothered to pick up and read Borges. I once attempted to read Faulkner (“Absolom, Absolom”) and found it turgid beyond belief. That (including the 1500 word opening sentence – I kiddeth ye not) is more widely read than Borges’ concise and witty little shorts.

    I think “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” is the most important story of the C20th. I’ll defend that against anyone.

  • An excellent, well thought out and constructed post.

    I was never a Communist, Labour from 15 to 21. Some Liberal and Conservative ideas appealed to me, small government especially, some didn’t. I found certain aspects of anarchism interesting (but I figured it could never really work), the Levellers were also interesting.

    At one time or another I voted for the main three parties – even the Greens once.

    I initially became acquainted with some of the ideas behind Libertarianism by reading Robert A. Heinlein and L. Neil Smith and liked them.

    Once I knew there were really Libertarians out there and dug into the philosophy I realised that was what I had been groping towards for years.

  • Nick M

    Michael Jennings,
    Why are they technophobes? Well, we are all amateur psychologists to some degree aren’t we? We have to be in any conceivable society. So it is much easier to believe that we can “engineer human souls” than get down and dirty with the math and the cogs.

    I have not yet met a Green (the current incarnation) who can tell me how a nuclear power station works or how one genitically modifies crops. I have heard them though rail against these things with passion and at extreme length. They feel the right, nay duty, to bore me rigid with their codswallop but the moment you try and bore them rigid with the design details of the RMBK reactor (and therefore why Sizewell B ain’t gonna do a Chernobyl) they just aren’t interested. Seriously not interested. Most of the contemporary Green movement is based upon willful ignorance. The whole Green “precautionary principle” is that writ large. It is killing people and it is stopping others from fulfilling their dreams and I absolutely, utterly, completely hate and despise them for it.

    Many aspects of Green practise deserve an environmental audit but though shalt not look at the issues rationally. It has to be touchy-feely and call me old fashioned but I prefer to go with that terribly elitist thing called science created largely by dead white European middle-class males. Of course they have invaded that too… And to bring this rant to a close, I propose a UN resolution telling Al Gore exactly where he can put his hockey stick. And without Vaseline too.

  • Since nothing Shirley Jackson wrote before The Lottery or after for that matter and since her husband was a Spanish professor at Bennington College in Vermont whose speciality was Latin American literature I’ve always had evil suspicions.

    One nit-pick and one complaint.

    The nit-pick: I’m not terribly sure about this, but wasn’t Hyman an English professor, not a Spanish teacher? Of course he was a famous literary critic, so this detail has nothing to say about your theory that he introduced Jackson to Borges.

    The complaint: The Lottery got her the most publicity, but it’s hardly the only worthwhile thing she ever wrote..? No accounting for taste, I suppose, but I’ve enjoyed most of the shortstories I read by her as well as The Haunting of Hill House. She’s one of those rare writers where nothing is superfluous, nor is anything deliberately hidden. She’s a straightforward storyteller and yet the devil is still in the details.

    I admit I haven’t read the Borges story you cite, but from what I’ve read about it it sounds like the lottery in that story is a multifaceted, complex metaphor for a lot of things. For Jackson it’s primarily a plot device, only secondarily a metaphor. She might have lifted a plot detail from Borges, but it sounds like that’s the extent of it. I don’t really have any complaints about that.

  • Why libertarian? What you describe your ‘conversion’ to is something that’s not just libertarian. I am not a libertarian and yet you see my name in the right hand sidebar. Libertarians lost the plot in the months following 9/11 and some of their precepts have not been very palatable at best of times; libertarianism has never had the monopoly on the belief that state should stay out of the individuals business and perform the twin roles of internal and external protection of the individual – law enforcement and the army.

    More importantly, who needs an -ism to describe oneself when one has a blog where one can spell out your beliefs, arguments and convictions? No need to risk association with some barking moonbats on ‘your side’…

  • Paul Marks

    As you know Adriana a libertarian is “just” someone who accepts the nonaggression principle (the quote marks are there, of course, because of all the arguments over what this means in various situations).

    For example, I have been a libertarian all my adult life (at least) and I did not “lose the plot” after 9/11.

    However, I do know what you mean – stuff like the wild anti American writings of David Gordon and others.

    The odd thing is that they are very good on other things, not just economics but general philosophy also, they have just got into their heads that in every war and conflict Uncle Sam must be in the wrong.

    Of course this is not a small flaw to have.

    “My country right or wrong” is, well, wrong.

    But “my country is always wrong” is wrong as well.

    “Not the country, the government” they reply – O.K. sure, whatever.

  • Paul Marks

    L. Neil Smith – I met him at a conference long ago, he was a nice fellow.

    I remember him taking photographs of Chris and Brian outside the House of Commons at night.