Free Life Commentary,
A Personal View from
The Director of the Libertarian Alliance
Issue Number 160
21st June 2007
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The Second Meeting of the Property and Freedom Society,
Bodrum, May 2007:
A Brief Record
by Sean Gabb
When I came back last year from the inaugural meeting in Turkey of the The Property and Freedom Society, I was unable to imagine how the next could be better. Everything about that meeting—the hotel, the location, the speeches, the new friendships—was as near perfect as could be. How, then, could the next one be better? It was set for the same place, between the 24th and 28th May 2007.
The answer is that it managed to be better by being much the same, plus a little extra. The Hotel Karia Princess was as wonderful as before—and I do most strongly recommend it to anyone who wants to visit the Aegean coast of Turkey. My opinion of the Turks is, if possible, higher still than it was last year. I then compared them with the Greeks. I had yet to discover the Sicilians, about whom I cannot speak truly without risking imprisonment under the Public Order Act.
I will speak later about my impressions of Ephesus and Constantinople. But I gave my general thoughts last year on Turkey, and so will not repeat them here
I turn then to the conference proceedings. Remember that the Property and Freedom Society was set up by Hans-Hermann Hoppe for the uncompromising promotion of libertarian values—that is, a promotion that is not to be moderated by any considerations of what the ruling classes of the West consider to be appropriate. Last year, what was said was so interesting that several ordinary guests in the hotel booked their next holiday to coincide with the next meeting. I do not think they were disappointed. Let me summarise those speeches which I recorded on video or of which I took written notes.
Friday 25th May 2007
First were Richard Lynn, on “The Global Bell Curve” and Tatu Vanhanen on “IQ and the Wealth of Nations”. Though these gave different speeches, both were on the same theme, and both speakers drew from the book they have written together, IQ and Global Inequality. They explained that one of the main indicators of economic success for a nation—assuming reasonably sane government—is IQ; that it is possible to construct a scatter diagram to show the stability of this relationship; that IQ is largely inherited and fully innate; that IQ is different between countries and different between the temperate and equatorial regions of our planet; and that IQ averages in the former regions may be depressed by migration from the latter.
They dismissed cultural differences between groups and social inequalities. These, they insisted, did not explain differences of income so fully or so simply as differences of IQ.
These are controversial claims, and they provoked a long discussion from the floor. At the end, Professor Hoppe made a number of points which are worth summarising;
First, these are claims about matters of fact. As such, they ought to be subject to the same reasoned discussion as any other set of evidential claims.
Second, if they are true, they have no bearing on the core values of libertarianism. Just because some groups may not be of equal average intelligence or other ability does not mean that any individual should have other than equal rights to life, liberty and property.
Third, a free society based on the division of labour has room for all levels of intelligence and other ability.
The next main speakers were Yuri Maltsev and Paul Gottfried. Professor Maltsev spoke about “The Quest for Equality and the Poverty of Nations”, and showed that those nations in which equality of outcome has been most strenuously pursued are the poorest and least equal places on earth. Professor Gottfried asked “Can We Defeat the Disease of Egalitarianism?” I did not record his speech, but I did record an interview with him that is now available on the Internet. In this, he gives a characteristically radical answer.
That was the end of the first day of proceedings. We moved to a long and enjoyable dinner in the gardens of the Hotel.
Saturday 26th May 2007
The first session on Saturday included: Peter Mentzel on “The Ottoman Empire: How Sick Was the Sick Man of Europe?”; William Marina on “A Desert Without Thaw: US—Iran Relations 1944-Present”; and Hunt Tooley on “Divide, Rule, Manipulate: Western Strategies for the Middle East in the Period between the World Wars”.
These were all fascinating speeches, and I wish I had recorded them on video. I learnt that the Ottoman Empire was actually dong rather well by all normal indicators until 1914, and that it managed to outlive the Tsarist Government that had coined the “Sick Man” epithet. From Professor Marina, I most recall his revelation that the Persians will, within the next generation, become a minority in Iran, and that there is, in obvious consequence, a natural basis for a settlement of all differences with the western powers.
Next came Thomas DiLorenzo on “The American Myth of Limited Constitutional Government” and Marco Bassani on “Empire or Liberty: The Anti-Federalist Alternative”. These took sceptical views of American politics in the 1780s, and showed how failings in the framing of the American Constitution gradually defeated the stated purpose of the War of Independence.
Next was Paul Belien on “Secessionism in Europe”. This included a trenchant attack on Scottish nationalism, which Dr Belien has less to do with creating an independent Scotland than with breaking up a Eurosceptical United Kingdom.
Then came I. When Professor Hoppe asked me for a title last year, I did suggest “Demography and History”. I then changed my mind, and thought it would be more interesting to speak about the possibly libertarian implications of the global warming hysteria. But I found the title on the agenda when I arrived, and Mrs Gabb told me it would be rude to make changes so late in the day.
I therefore spoke about the demographic changes in the Eastern Mediterranean world of the sixth and seventh centuries—how these had been caused by a pandemic as great as the Black Death, and how they led to the collapse of ancient civilisation and the Arab conquest of Syria, Egypt and North Africa. I have uploaded the video of this speech to the Internet, and so will say no more about it.
So ended the second day of proceedings. In the evening, we all went off for dinner in the fishing village of Kadikalesi. We sat on the beach until long after sunset, eating fish and drinking various wines and spirits.
Sunday 27th May 2007
The first speaker on Sunday was Christian Michel, who is, among much else, the Director of European Affairs for the Libertarian Alliance. He spoke about “The Neuroses of Science and State”. Christian speaks the best English of any Frenchman I have met. Indeed, he speaks better English than most Englishmen. And this was a characteristically polished and elliptical speech on how state control and state finance of research corrupts knowledge. I am sure the text will soon be available through the Libertarian Alliance.
Then came Edward Stringham, asking “If Anarcho-Capitalism is so Great, Why doesn’t it Exist?” and Dan Stastny on “The Economics of Economics”.
After this came Professor Hoppe with a long and very interesting paper on “The Origins of Private Property and the Family”. This is hard to summarise. But it seeks to explain the emergence of both property and the family as responses to population growth. It is only when individuals are able to own property that new resources are created. It is only when individuals are held responsible for the maintenance of their children that population does not grow beyond the constraint of the resources presently available.
Mrs Gabb drew a number of highly conservative inferences from the speech. But as the speech will soon be published in full by the Libertarian Alliance, I will not mention these now.
Then came Juliusz Jablecki, commenting on “Libertarian Strategy in the Post-Modernist Age”, and Olivier Richard, making “A Note on Libertarian Strategy”. Mr Jablecki spoke about the feasibility of using the language of post-modernism against the post-modernists, and this led to an entertaining argument with Paul Gottfried. Dr Richard spoke about the need to reach out to groups not currently regarded as libertarian, but who may be favourable to a reduction in state control over their lives.
And that was it for 2007. We spent the evening in the Hotel for a dinner that included belly dancing and a carpet sale.
The fact that these conferences are so enormously pleasant as a social experience does not blind me to their merits considered as conferences. The libertarian movement is hardly on the edge of collapse. Even with its minimal funding, the Libertarian Alliance is going though one of its more energetic periods. There are libertarian movements in almost every civilised country—and in many uncivilised countries.
But there is often a feeling of staleness about libertarian arguments. I am not dismissing our frequent concentration on economic issues. Whatever anyone may claim, we have not won the arguments on economics. We are as heavily taxed as ever—and more heavily regulated than in the 1960s and 1970s. But the nature of the statist enemy has changed in the past few decades. It has learnt to combine some degree of economic rationality with new modes of oppression and new modes of justification. I do not feel that we have, as a movement, come adequately to terms with these changes.
I believe that there is still good work to be done in building alliances with some sexual and other minorities and with many people who regard themselves as on the “left” of politics. At the same time, there is much common ground with intelligent conservatives like Paul Belien and Paul Gottfried. They are not libertarians, but they do have insights into the nature of the new order of things from which we can all benefit.
The value of the Property and Freedom Society is that it provides an institutional framework within which differences can be discussed and areas of agreement explored. The intention is that its annual meeting should become better every time. This does not necessarily mean bigger: it means better and more exclusive. Invitations should become an essential mark of acceptance to everyone who is anyone in our movement.
Therefore, I do most warmly commend the work of Professor Hoppe and of his colleagues in the Property and Freedom Society. Anyone who is interested to learn more about this work should contact Professor Hoppe directly. He is already planning the next meeting in Turkey for the May of 2008, and is looking for additional participants.
This year, Mrs Gabb went with me to Turkey, and she enjoyed herself as much as I did. We spent much of our free time wandering around Bodrum and looking in the shops.
We also hired a car and drove several hundred miles along the Aegean coastline, looking at Ephesus, Miletus, Magnesia, and other famous but now ruined cities of the ancient world.
Most importantly, though, we spent two days in Constantinople—the Second Rome. My new, and so far unpublished, novel is set here in the year 610. It has barbarian raids, chariot races, political intrigue, murder and civil war woven into the plot. But the place where all this happens is the great City of Constantine.
In writing the novel, I relied much on reconstructed maps of the mediaeval city and of descriptions by modern historians. I knew that the old maps were unreliable, due to more than a thousand years of continuous redevelopment. But our first walk through the City told me I needed to rewrite many parts of the novel. I had not realised the immense scale of the City within the Walls of Theodosius. It is bigger than Westminster and the City of London combined. It can take hours to cross from one side to the other.
Then there are the hills. I had somehow imagined the City as more or less flat. The centre, however, is on a plateau that rises to several hundred feet above sea level. You can look out from the windows of the Hagia Sophia Church and look down to the Golden Horn and the Bosporus. I shall have much fun rewriting the relevant parts of the novel.
The modern City is also impressive. We did all the usual sights—the Blue Mosque, the Spice Market, the Grand Bazaar, and so on.
Perhaps most interesting, though, was that we arrived in the City on the 29th May. After a day of walking from place to place, Mrs Gabb and I sat down in the wide space that used to contain the Hippodrome and were busy discussing where we should have dinner. At once, there was the crash of Turkish military music—the sort that Mozart was good at mimicking. We got up and pushed through the large crowd that had formed. Along the street towards us about twenty men dressed as Janissaries were marching. As they passed, the crowd let up a cheer and joined in a procession.
Someone gave me a Turkish flag and waved me into the procession. Mrs Gabb suggested that this might be one of the civil disturbances we had been warned about on the television. But everyone looked very cheerful, and I wanted to know what was happening.
We marched along until we reached a square with a stage and seating set up. The Janissaries and the band went onto the stage, and everyone else crowded into the seats or stood around.
Someone dressed very smartly got up and began a long speech in Turkish. I understood none of this, but turned to look at the banners that had been draped around the square. I read the words “Istanbul Fetih 554 yili Konseri”. I know that Fetih is “victory” in many oriental languages, and that konseri must mean “concert”. The “554″ told me, though, what was happening. This was the 29th May. On that day in 1453, the City was taken from the Greeks.
As I am rather pro-Byzantine, I felt wicked to have taken part—even unwittingly— in a celebration of so notable a disaster. On the other hand, I was smitten with admiration for the Turks. In England, we just about manage to celebrate historical events since 1940. Anything earlier tends to be officially discouraged or ignored. Here, though, the Turks were in full patriotic glow about the fall of the Eastern Empire. And, if regrettable, it was a splendid achievement. Unlike the Crusaders, who simply burnt and looted and killed, the Turkish conquerors rebuilt the City in magnificent style and made it once again the capital of a great empire.
I did as Mrs Gabb said, and put the flag away, but we both stood listening to the concert until darkness and hunger drove us in search of food. I managed to shoot some interesting if disorganised video footage of the event.
We will go back to the City. But that will be another article..
NB—Sean Gabb’s new book, Cultural Revolution, Culture War: How Conservatives Lost England, and How to Get It Back, can be downloaded for free from http://tinyurl.com/34e2o3