Why a Libertarian Society would not Deprive Individuals
of Cultural Roots and Collective Identity
David Robert Gibson
Cultural Notes No. 55
ISSN: 0267-677X (print)
ISSN: 2042-2539 (online)
An occasional publication of the Libertarian Alliance,
Suite 35, 2 Lansdowne Row, Mayfair, London W1J 6HL.
© 2010: Libertarian Alliance; David Robert Gibson.
David Robert Gibson was born in London in 1953, and lives in semi-rural Essex. He left school at 16, and has worked in many occupations including the civil service, as a community worker and as a courier. Since 1988, he has worked in information technology and he has been a freelance computer consultant/technician since 2000. His interests include individual freedom, spiritual development, libertarian politics, history, the countryside, aesthetics and motoring. This essay is a slightly revised version of the winning entry to the Libertarian Alliance’s 2010 Chris R. Tame Memorial Prize, ‘Would a Libertarian Society Deprive Individuals of Cultural Roots and Collective Identity?’.
The views expressed in this publication are those of its author, and not necessarily those of the Libertarian Alliance, its Committee,
Advisory Council or subscribers.
FOR LIFE, LIBERTY AND PROPERTY
I take it as a privilege to present my essay for a prize established in the name of the late Dr Chris R. Tame. I have tried to write this from the heart, to further and do honour to the cause of libertarianism, and also as a modest effort to help continue the work that Chris championed for almost 40 years.
The answer to the question is No—well, that’s certainly my answer. If and when we achieve a libertarian society, two things are certain—that its people will have individual freedom at their core principle, and those people will have histories—cultural roots and many of them collective identities. Being libertarians, those people will surely reflect upon whether or not those cultural roots and collective identities are compatible with individual freedom, and so keep or discard them accordingly. In a libertarian society, there will not be, as there are now, central authorities to impose or deny those associations, or to make a ‘Year Zero’ break from their past. They will not be ignorant, passive ‘sheeple’ to be cajoled and coerced into obedience by rulers. Rather, free people will, having complete freedom of conscience, action and association, decide themselves. So we had best answer the question by reflecting upon what sort of adherence to cultural roots and collective identities will be compatible with living the libertarian life. There is the additional possibility that these freed people will set down new cultural roots and even collective identities, freely entered into and freely left. Any collective association will be subservient to the prime principle of freedom—that the individual person is free to think and act as they choose, provided that that does not infringe other people’s freedom to do the very same.
Libertarianism is a political and social philosophy, and most completely, a way of life. The vast majority of political ‘philosophies’—I use inverted commas because most of them are not wise—boil down to one group of people imposing their will upon those who do not agree with them, i.e. everyone else. In 21st Century Britain, we live in a society that most political commentators would call ‘free and democratic’. To be sure, this is neither an absolute monarchy nor a communist or fascist state, according to the purist meanings of those words. However, and despite regular elections, local, national and European, like all three political models ‘ representative democracy’ exists by ‘elected’ groups of people, almost invariably supported by a minority of the electorate, enacting laws that the rest of us are required to obey. If we disobey, even if that disobedience hurts no one and may help many, the Regime can and will send their agents, and not even always as a last resort, to imprison or murder us. That is not freedom, it is not libertarian, and it will not do!
THE SURVIVAL OF CULTURAL ROOTS AND COLLECTIVE IDENTITIES
Families are the most universal and enduring cultural roots and collective identities, and they must endure for any society to survive. A libertarian society will not subsidise families, either by money or propaganda, and so I foresee a resurgence in the traditional heterosexual marriage/partnership between a man and woman, usually with children, simply because it is the most self-sustaining kind. Without children a society becomes extinct! Parents would nurture children when they are young, and children no doubt would return that kindness when they are old. That is the traditional way. Sadly, because the state provides copious welfare payments and big business issues propaganda in the form of advertising telling people they should work for status, possessions and shallow entertainment, this traditional way is dying-out. Instead, parents are often ‘semi-detached’ towards their children, leaving them to be ‘brought-up’ by role models on television, the media and in computer games. They then increasingly often, send them off to ‘uni’(versity). These children as adults then ‘return the compliment’ by having increasingly little to do with their parents, and when the latter are old, pack them off to a nursing home. This does not make for a caring and cohesive society.
Work would continue, and as workers spend much of their lives at work they would naturally build and sustain a collective identity with their colleagues, during work and afterwards. As government would not exist, or if it did it would be vastly smaller than now, there would be far fewer people working in central locations. The state would be gone or minimal in size, and large companies would no longer have the state protection given them via limited liability. Nor would large companies have state patronage. I work in Information Technology, and I have noticed that in state colleges, most of the computers there are supplied by huge multi-national corporations including Hewlett Packard and Dell. Their turnover would wither considerably. Consequently, most people would work locally and so their identities would be far more with people in their locality. This was, of course, true of the vast bulk of people throughout almost all of recorded history.
Clubs and informal groups attract many people to spend time, with and identify with, others who share their interest in practicing games, arts, intellectual pursuits, various forms of ‘self-improvement’, myriad hobbies, and historical societies and re-enactment groups like the Ermine Street Guard and the Sealed Knot. These are voluntary, and so I foresee they will continue.
Political parties, I expect, would cease to exist, since they serve to gain freedom or advantage for themselves and or their ‘clients’. A libertarian society will give people freedom and those people will not take advantage, since to do so would not be libertarian! I suspect that some readers will be surprised by my summary dismissal of political parties. To them I pose the question: In a society where people are free, what would be the raison d’être of political parties? The same must be asked of international organisations, and probably even the nation state—and answered, in my view, in the negative.
Religion in libertarian society deserves a more complex answer. Religion, or the modernist term for it, ‘Faith’, includes a vast array of doctrines and, much more important, practices. It is not the business of libertarians, rather like Elizabeth I, to enquire into men’s souls, but we must consider whether what they do allows people to be free. Religious practices are of two very different types – those that focus on meditation, contemplation and or prayer—what I shall call mystical, and those that act to change the world socially (and culturally and politically)—what I shall call militant.
The religions that are largely mystical include Buddhism, Taoism, the more quietist forms of Hinduism, contemplative Christianity and Sufism. In the modern world Islam is by far the most militant—both in the laws it imposes in Muslim countries, and the violence it carries out there and in other lands in the name of Islamic jihad, although in the Indian sub-continent some Hindus and even a few Buddhists take up arms to impose their religion upon ‘non-believers’. I include under the title militant, less formal but widespread practices including female genital mutilation and ‘honour killings’. Some ‘Christian fundamentalists’ would like to impose their religion upon others, that is a desire rather than a practice. In short, a libertarian society can co-exist with mystics (indeed it may be enhanced by them as I will mention in my Conclusion). It cannot co-exist with militants, but rather the overwhelming majority of individual people asserting their own freedom of action, without denying other people theirs, will make its successful establishment possible and so people will have no reason to be militant. Some readers may find this a bland assertion; of them I ask: How can we have a libertarian society when many members of it are not willing libertarians? People must become libertarian in their hearts and souls before a libertarian society can be created. They will not be obeying orders!
There are people here, and in growing numbers, from abroad, who follow cultural traditions from their homelands, or the homelands of their descendants, including Ramadan, Eid and Diwali. Jews and Muslims traditionally do not eat pork, nor do Hindus eat beef. Most of these practices do not conflict with the libertarian life, but I feel that my Essay would be incomplete if I failed to mention, at least in passing, that many immigrants are establishing the cultures of their homelands here. Insofar as those cultural roots and collective identity are anti-libertarian, as many manifestly are, they will delay or render increasingly impossible a libertarian society here.
I have long argued1 against mass immigration, that is immigration without the prior invitation of a native citizen here, is illegitimate. I have also argued against imposed multi-culturalism, that is the state imposition of enforced association upon people with members of other races, religions, cultures and orientations. I think both are morally wrong, not least because they are achieved via coercion, and that both are destroying the peace within society and may well bring it to a bloody end. I consider that both are disruptions of the traditional relatively homogeneous culture and neither deserves to stand. What is to be done to cure these problems? I do not have a watertight answer, but I do feel that libertarians should spend time in thought and reflection to find one.
Libertarianism is not a nationalist movement, but rather an individualist one. However is it a non-coercive philosophy, and both mass immigration and multi-culturalism have been imposed. Words including racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic (not to mention homophobic, sexist, etc. in other conflicts) have been used by the new-Left establishment, with a mounting intensity that crosses the line into fanaticism, to vilify people who prefer the company of others who are like themselves. They should not stand, and I feel that in a libertarian society people will be free to resume traditional associations, if they wish to, freely. We will not be made to fit into cultural straightjackets tailored by any regime.
I do not know whether a libertarian society will establish itself throughout the nation, or even the world. In view of the way society is fracturing, I think it rather more likely that it will start locally, perhaps within a ‘patchwork’ of differing cultures. If that comes to pass, the militia that I mention elsewhere probably will be essential to its survival.
There are many periodical traditions that people follow, including Remembrance Day, Bonfire Night/Guy Fawkes Night, (largely Christian) Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, Saints Days and Harvest Festival and Pancake Day/Shrove Tuesday, and wearing crosses, (largely Pagan and Druid) Summer and Winter Solstice celebrations at Stonehenge and elsewhere, May Poles and Morris Dancing, (largely in Scotland) Hogmanay, and sundry other religious and secular celebrations. None of these involve people suffering or imposing oppression upon other people, so I see no conflict between their practice and the libertarian life. Many of these constitute part of what many people see as ‘being English’, and again for the same innocuous reason, I do not see anything un-libertarian in that. Some may even have ‘Charles and Di’ mugs on their mantle-pieces, but not, alas, me.
Charity is a long-established tradition here and throughout most of the world, operated by church and secular groups. One major criticism that the political Left level at the dismantling of the ‘welfare state’—a natural consequence of a libertarian society—is that the poor will ‘go to the wall’. Whether or not that became true it should not be maintained at the expense of coercive theft from taxpayers. I also think that that is unjustified. In a libertarian society, people will be free to do as they wish with their money and their time. I have talked with many libertarians, and my strong impression of them is that they are decent-hearted folk. I deduce that in the absence of state poor relief, charitable giving would continue and probably increase, at least until such time that the libertarian morality of self-support replaced that of financial dependency (upon taxpayers via a coercive state machine), for all but people who were too ill or disabled to support themselves. Those people were once known as ‘the deserving poor’, before political correctness brought obloquy upon those who uttered it.
REVIVED AND NEW TRADITIONS
Some English ways are in decline or have all but died. Libertarian culture will give people the freedom to sell their apples in pounds and ounces, to hunt foxes, and to own guns, including handguns (I was interested to see a pair of Wordworth’s pistols in the William Wordsworth Exhibition at Dove Cottage in Grasmere, Cumbria—clearly there was a time when even such as a poet would own handguns!). Successive United Kingdom governments and the European Union have legislated to make these traditional practices extinct, and their health and safety laws threaten playing conkers and such local traditions as Cheese Rolling at Coopers Hill in Gloucestershire—no more in a libertarian society. There may also arise new traditions celebrating men who have furthered the cause of liberty here, including John Pym, John Hampden and Oliver Cromwell.
Libertarians will not initiate violence, but those who are not pacifists will surely want to be able to protect themselves. Even if our society becomes libertarian, most of the world will be slower in becoming so—judging by the state of the world over hundreds of years of history. Consequently, I suspect we will see the return of militias, local paramilitary forces—strictly voluntary equivalents of the Anglo-Saxon fyrd, and of those here in the early modern period. They will serve to expel foreign invaders, and be held together not by conscription or formal contract with the state, but rather by the security of mutual protection and a sense of honour in not leaving their comrades in the lurch.
Readers may have noticed my mention, with approval, of mystical pursuits. I suspect that many libertarians are so because they find libertarianism intellectually satisfying or compelling (and so it is). I find more inspiration in how well it reconciles with the quest for spiritual liberation, and I would be far from surprised if the triumph of libertarianism saw many more people following the path to spiritual enlightenment. I think we will see the establishment of meditation centres – modern echoes of the abbeys that were widespread in the mediaeval period. In my view we need to seek inner liberation from fear, guilt and anxiety in order to be in the right state of mind to be alert fully to our political serfdom, and to assert our freedom from it. Conventional religion is largely focused upon collective identity—services in churches and more recently in some areas in mosques and temples, but the religion to which I refer focuses more within—upon individual identity, arguably enlightened by a greater Self, or to some God.
Why do I write of mystical religion in an essay that is considerably about politics? Was not one of the achievements of the ‘Enlightenment’ the separation of Church and State? To those questions I reply that personal spiritual elevation is not obedience to an institution or a creed, it is the search for inner freedom, and how can we become free without, politically, when we are not free within, spiritually? We live in an immensely complex, fast-moving, ambitious and materialist society, in which publicly no value is placed upon the inner man—the soul or spirit. Jesus is recorded as saying, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26 and Mark 8:36-37). Buddhist and Taoist sages said similar, indeed Taoism has as its central principle Wu Wei—non-interference (with the natural rhythm of life). Is not non-interference also central to the libertarian life? I feel that it is in harmony with the thoughts of great libertarians like Mises, Hayek, Rand, Rothbard, Rockwell, Hoppe, etc. I hope that this non-interference will become an established culture.
I will digress briefly from the central point of my essay because I think I would be unfair for me, having mentioned spiritual endeavour to readers, to leave them without giving them any direction towards it. Do try to practice meditation (or prayer), for example two techniques ‘Sitting quietly doing nothing’—and watching the passage of thoughts without becoming attached to them, and the similar ‘Mindfulness of Breathing’—observing your natural rhythm of breaths, without interfering with that rhythm. You may well find that you become less urgent, less ambitious and more at peace with yourself. You may find that you understand yourself better, and as I consider that we all have the same mixture of feelings and motives, albeit in different proportions, we will understand other people better. You may also find that you become less tolerant of coercion, being coerced and coercing other people, and so deepened in libertarian convictions.
We venture into the unknown in predicting what new traditions will arise, but judging from our pre-libertarian past, they will continue to be very varied, and probably often local.
So, to conclude: the cultural attachments that people hold dear to themselves are numerous and varied in character. We can deduce that some of them will survive in a new libertarian society, and that others will not. The question that the essay title poses begs another: How will we achieve a libertarian society? Answering it lies beyond this discussion, but it should occupy at least some of the time of all who call themselves ‘Libertarian’. Answering it successfully in ways that satisfy both our minds, and more importantly, our souls, and consequently satisfy the vast majority of people who are not libertarians, will lead inexorably to libertarian lives for all. We do well to reflect, day-to-day and hour-to-hour, how we need to change our outlook, and to make those changes. I commend this essay to its readers, and I hope that reflection upon it will help them to illuminate their libertarian life.
(1) Such as on the Libertarian Alliance’s Yahoo! Group, where you can read more of my reflections from time to time on a variety of subjects. The Group can be found at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/libertarian-alliance-forum/.