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My year in speakers

So here I am in Brittany, alternating between writing this and getting stuck into a New Year’s Eve feast, which explains any typos in what follows, and which is also making me ponder New Year resolutions. One of mine is to write rather more for Samizdata than I have been doing lately, which will not be hard. The idea was that resuming my Last Friday of the Month meetings, which I did in January 2013, would give me more to write about here, but the truth is that there is never any shortage of stuff to write about for Samizdata. The world abounds with good things and bad things, amusing things and annoying things. What sometimes fades is the will to write. But I’ll start as I mean to resume by writing a little about each of the speakers at my Last Friday meetings during this year. I hope these speakers will all agree that me now writing too little, too late, about their various excellent performances is better than nothing.

In January 2014, Alex Singleton spoke about his new book on PR, The PR Masterclass. Not the least of this book’s virtues is that it calls Public Relations Public Relations, rather than something more pompous and evasive. I did at least write here at the time about this book’s launch, which was a definite success, as is the book, packed as it is with what reads to me like lots of common-sense. Alex, however, is still a man worth hiring if you have a PR problem, because it is one thing to read a lot of common-sense in a book, quite another to be able to deploy it in the heat of a PR battle. Talking of the heat of a PR battle, Alex tells me that his next book is to be about Crisis Management. So, if your oil pipeline springs a leak, google Alex Singleton at once and hope that this book is by then available as a download, and that it starts with a short summary of all the wisdom that follows. Seriously, if you run a big organisation, buy this next Alex Singleton book as soon as it appears, and then give it more than a precautionary glance. You won’t be wasting any time, and you could save yourself and your underlings a world of grief.

In February, Dominic Frisby spoke about his then forthcoming book on Bitcoin, which has now forthcome. Our own Rob Fisher, who attended this talk, and who helped Dominic out with some technical details on the software front, later described the book in the first Amazon review of it (see the link above) as “concise, complete, correct, entertaining”. I first wrote, very admiringly, about Frisby and his writing here in this posting. My admiration for Frisby has not dimmed, and I very much hope that more Frisby books will follow.

In March, Christian Michel spoke about the Western European revival of liberalism in the aftermath of World War 2. Hosting this talk caused me to buy and read this book by Michel Foucault, whom Christian Michel regards as a sort of closet libertarian. For me, the kind of libertarians who matter are the ones who emerge from the closet and say so, loud and clear, which Foucault never really did. But it was a fascinating talk, and Christian Michel is a most interesting man. If the ultimate compliment to a speaker is him being invited back again, well, see October below.

The most notable thing about the talk that Samizdata’s own Michael Jennings gave at my place in April, about Russia and surrounding places is that it resulted in another talk that Michael gave to a larger Libertarian Home audience at the Rose and Crown in Southwark. I referred to this latter talk, and the splendid way in which Michael crushed a Putinite stooge who also attended, in this posting at my personal blog. Putinite stooges seem to show up at all talks in London about Russia these days, making enemies and influencing people to think the opposite way to what they say. Christian Michel also holds meetings and his home, and in one of these earlier this year, a lady academic gave a really quite plausible talk about Russia and how it is so terribly misunderstood these days. But the effect was utterly destroyed by the sinister Putinite whom she brought along with her, who sat right next to her and who then spouted obnoxious lies during the later socialising. Michael Jennings is now back in gainful employment, so there may be rather less from him in the future about his various globe-trottings, more’s the pity. On the other hand, he still has plenty more he can tell us about the globe-trotting he has already done (along with a ton of unexhibited photos), so I hope he will continue to oblige with such foreign-parts-based recollections.

In May Dominique Lazanski spoke about all those NGO meetings that now rule the world, by quietly agreeing about what laws will subsequently be passed by mere governments. Dominique herself specialises in internet issues, putting the arguments as best she can against the supposed need for a tyrannical global super-state devoted, among many things, to hobbling the internet. It was a fascinating glimpse into how the world is now governed, and good on her for doing what she can to resist – and at the very least to keep an eye on and comment on – such trends.

In June, Innes Bowen who works for the BBC and who was responsible for organising this Keynes v Hayek event, spoke about her book about British Islam. This continues to gather praise from all manner of people, no matter what their opinions might be about what the problem is, what it all means, etc. etc., questions which Innes Bowen makes a point of neither asking nor answering in her book. Her questions were much simpler. Who are these people? Where do they live? How many of which sort lives where? What are their events like? How do women fit in? If Innes Bowen, a woman, tries to talk to them, are they friendly? What do they say? Is what they say entirely true? Personally, I detest Islam, by which I mean that I detest what Islam says in the writings that Islam’s devotees say they are devoted to, and I am not a bit surprised that Islam is up to its neck in all manner of conflicts around the world, and this opinion was not altered in any way by reading this book. I already knew that British Muslims are a varied lot, and mostly quite nice, about everything except the rightness or wrongness of being Muslims. But I did find this book very informative, just as others did who think very differently to me about Islam, and quite differently to one another. I am aware of nobody having pointed out any factual errors in the book, and it is now finding its way into university reading lists, despite the jealous complaints of a few factually outgunned specialist academics.

In July Simon Gibbs spoke, about what made him into a libertarian, and into a libertarian activist. One of his early libertarian influences, I am happy to report, was Samizdata! Then it was writers like Ayn Rand. It is no accident that one of the most eloquent speakers at the highly successful debate Simon organised on October 23rd about the cost of living was the noted Randian, Yaron Brook. As I compose this posting the Libertarian Home website is, to me anyway, unavailable, although that might be because I am in France, but the LH Youtube presence is working loud and clear, and there is also Twitter. Meanwhile, let me say that a large part of whatever success Brian’s Fridays have achieved has been because of speakers and regular attenders at my evenings whom I first got to know through Libertarian Home. One of the most useful things my evenings do is to give speakers a chance to speak for the first time about a subject which they later speak about more publicly to the Libertarian Home crowd, and then elsewhere. If Simon was not so good at and so diligent about videoing his speakers, I might already be videoing mine. As it is, I reckon that my evenings are a welcome chance for speakers to get their heads around subjects for the first time, without every hesitantly expressed first thoughts being nailed down on video for ever.

In August, Richard Carey, someone else I have got to know in the last few years thanks to Libertarian Home and who has become one of my favourite people, spoke about the Republican ideas that emerged from the English Civil War of the seventeenth century, as opposed to the libertarian ideas of people like John Lilburne, concerning which he had spoken at a couple of earlier Brian’s Fridays. These ideas ended up as the intellectual foundations of the USA. Alas, libertarianism as such did not. But I especially recall one of my guests asking something along the lines of: So, did Lilburne’s libertarianism fail? Did it achieve anything? Carey’s answer was that in the short run, and from the merely political point of view, it failed. But if you read the voluminous writings of Deirdre McCloskey, you will learn of her argument to the effect that it was libertarian-inclined rhetoric, libertarian ideas, which triggered the Industrial Revolution, no less. Later, I recalled that, way back when I was at Essex University in the early seventies, a lefty theatrical friend made me orate (in a very bad play he had written) great gobs of quotes taken from a book about something described by its author, C. B. Macpherson, as Possessive Individualism, which they (both Macpherson and my lefty friend) regarded as a Bad Thing because it had caused Capitalism. But I remember thinking that all this possessiveness and individualism sounded to me like a rather good idea. So there was another writer telling a very similar story about the rise of Capitalism as McCloskey does. It was just that he didn’t like it. Richard Carey said nothing about any of this, but he (and that questioner) did get me thinking about it.

In September Priya Dutta (another Libertarian Home regular) spoke about education and what has been going wrong with it. She spoke from experience, being the deputy head teacher of Holland House School. Of all the things it says at the excellent Holland House School website, I think my favourite is this:

We believe that confidence and self-esteem, even in the young child, follow intellectual development be it academic or moral.

Priya is a most impressive young woman. Like Simon Gibbs, she has been strongly influenced by Ayn Rand.

In October, Christian Michel spoke, again, this time about … wait for it … Nazi visual aesthetics. Here is a a clutch of the images that he talked about. Christian was especially eloquent about the way that some Nazi-favoured artists managed to smuggle in doubts about the whole Nazi project. Not all the soldiers in these pictures are looking unswervingly ahead. Children are sometimes to be seen in a state of melancholy rather than of ideologically correct enthusiasm. So, not the sort of talk you usually hear at libertarian gatherings, and all the better for it. It was based on a talk given by Christian Michel quite a few years ago, but why not keep interesting thoughts alive by given such talks a re-run? The whole point of this posting is that talks are not just given to be heard and thought about on the night, but are worth remembering and reflecting upon further, again.

In November, yet another of the friends I have recently made by attending Libertarian Home events, Rob Waller, who had already earlier spoken about how we libertarians can use social media to get our message across, spoke about how Islamic terrorists are making far more headline-grabbing use of these same media. This subject was then and it now continues to be a very hot issue, far hotter by the time Rob spoke about it than when he first agreed to do so. Follow that link and you will read someone saying that before the Snowden revelations, terrorists did not understand encryption, and never would have if he hadn’t told them about it. I find that most unpersuasive.

The last Friday of December turned out to be Boxing Day, and rather than inflict this gig on anyone else, with me fretting about how big (by which I mean how small) the turnout for the talk would be, I did it myself. The turnout was pretty small, and I won’t expand here on what I said, which was about the tactics and strategy of libertarianism (approximate title: Why do we bother?) if only because I am already getting far too near to my New Year’s Eve (expiration of) deadline. Maybe another time. I will be doing a much more formal talk along these lines for Libertarian Home in early February.

I have been handicapped in concocting this posting by not being at my own regular computer, and have also been racing to beat the arrival of the New Year. I am well aware that, concerning several of the above good people, I could and should have said more, more gratefully and more persuasively, and with my memory working better than it has been today. Meanwhile I have just about, give or take a few typos and grammatical cock-ups, got in under the New Year wire. So now, Happy New Year to everyone, to all who have recently spoken at or attended any of my Last Fridays, to fellow Samizdatistas and fellow readers of Samizdata, and to all their nearest and dearest. Here’s hoping that all our 2015s are good ones.

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6 comments to My year in speakers

  • Paul Marks

    Brittany is supposed to be a nice place – is it?

    I suppose it depends on the weather.

    As for the ideas of liberty.

    Well Eastern Tennessee has been pro liberty since the Civil War of the 1860s, and during the Civil War, so a culture of liberty can last for some time.

    The efforts of the state to take over the functions of civil society, the lie that the only alternative to statism is isolated individuals – “atomised”, will fail.

    The trouble is that they will fail horribly.

    The efforts of reformists, people like ME, have failed – have failed utterly.

    Vastly more people are dependent on the state than have ever been so in the past. Including in the United States – where a MAJORITY of people now either work for some layer of government or get some government benefit or other.

    And the non state alternatives, both religious and secular, have declined – withered away, due to crowding out by the state – and the CULTURAL decline this leaders to.

    Where to be when the entitlement state and the credit bubble financial system finally goes? Which it will.

    For a rich person there are many little islands and so on.

    But for an ordinary person?

    Perhaps somewhere with a strong Church, such as Utah, which can step in and deal, to some extent, with the starvation and so on.

    Although that does run the risk of theocracy.

    Sadly the largest Church in the Western World appears to be engaged in self destruction – led by a man (Pope Francis) who radically contradicts himself from day to day.

    One day Pope Francis is saying abortion is the work of the Devil, the next day Pope Francis will be telephoning the fanatically pro abortion head of the Italian Radical Party and congratulating him on his work.

    I am not making a point about abortion – I am making a point that the leader of the largest non state organisation in the Western world (the Roman Catholic Church) appears to be mentally unstable (things like the half hour rant before Christmas appears to be increasingly “normal” for this man).

    The mental instability of Pope Francis may prove serious if the economy of the world collapses whilst he is still Pope.

    He might, for example, suggest the “solutions” that have been adopted in his native Latin America – which would be an utter disaster.

    Let us hope that I have a mistaken impression of this man.

  • Mr Ed

    The mental instability of Pope Francis

    But is it ‘instability‘?

    Is this not simply a Leftist trait, the irrational rant for the sake of it? The doublethink, the failure to confront reality, the rejection of logic and so on. All this is SOP for Leftists, look at the President of his homeland, and many of her predecessors.

  • Michael Jennings (London)

    Pope Francis is from Argentina. This explains a lot of what he does and says, as far as I can see.

  • The Libertarian Home website is a little sick right now, and I am too busy playing with it to write a new years message like this one, so it is nice to feature in yours.

    The status of the website is that the median response time is now ~2 mins. Too long for most, but patience will be rewarded.

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