“Would a libertarian society deprive individuals of cultural roots and collective identity?”

David Davis

The title above is the question set by Sean Gabb for the imminent 2010 Chris Tame Memorial Prize (it’s £1,000 for all you reader chaps – our millions every day! –  but you are probably too late already as the conference is this coming weekend!)

As an Officer of the LA myself, I am barred from taking part in this annual competition, the subjects of which for the past several years I have itched to talk about. However, I can throw in my three-half-penceworth for free now.

It interests me, how societies grow up, enlarge, consolidate, and then seem to die or just fade away. Being a scientist, I’d like there to be some rule or general formula to describe this progress, for it seems  – whether sadly or happily (for societies sometimes evolve that are better than what was before) but I don’t think anybody agrees on one.

Libertarians believe, in general, that if liberty comes first, then order will follow. An order which is pleasing to the individuals in that society will naturally arise, as a result of how these people think they and others who come in to it ought to behave. But what is “order”? I think “Order” is the state that will exist when the majority of that society are behaving in a way, and transacting businesses and contracts and agreements in a way, that makes them all believe they are doing right and justice by each other. This state could be calibrated by the measuring of the levels of conflicts, or their absence.

We used to have a badge, in the “Alternative Bookshop”. It said:-


You could not make that up: only intellectual libertarians could think that that would make a marketable badge. I think we sold …..three. Between 1980 and 1983. (I do have one of them somewhere, I think. I will try to find it in my library…..)

History shows us that the most unlibertarian societies seem to be those which have been most successful at cutting people off from their cultural roots and previous collective identity. Let me count the (a couple of?) ways:-

(1) Hitler succeeded (although aided and abetted by Kaiser Wilhelm II before him) in turning arguably the most cultured, scientifically-advanced and civilised nation in Europe into a perverted parody of a barbaro-technocratic warrior-tribe (I reference “national socialist mathematics” as but one example of what went on. )

(2) The obsession with “Year Zero” is indicative. I think Pol Pot had one of these diseases. Er….it was for Cambodia. He’d have had no compunction about having another one right after, if he’d not killed all the spectacle-wearers in the first one. (Spectacles made you into an intellectual, and since these were mostly Bourgeois, they’d have to go.)

I’m being called so it will ‘ave to do for now. But you get the idea. I think that, far from denying a people (whatever a “people” might be defined to be) its collective identity and cultural roots, I think that a libertarian state, which would be very minarchist and minimalist if it could exist at all, would be the very thing that could allow a “people” to express its identity in any collective ways it wanted, which of course would be entirely voluntary by definition.

Sorry if this steals the thunder of whoever is the winner (I hasten to add that I have not seen any of the submitted essays, as Dr Sean Gabb guards them closely until publication) but I had to say this.

3 responses to ““Would a libertarian society deprive individuals of cultural roots and collective identity?”

  1. Pencka Gancheva

    Very well said, David!

  2. Johanthan Pearce

    A short answer to the question in the title is a qualified no.

    That’s it!

  3. You could put the question the other way round: a society with no cultural glue cannot become a libertarian society – the calls for government intervention to solve cultural problems will be too great.