Sean Gabb Speech in Bratislava

On Thursday, the 9th August 2012, Sean Gabb spoke in Bratislava to the Institute of Economic and Social Studies (INESS) on the subject of “Libertarianism: Left or Right?”

He made the following points:

1. That libertarianism is a child of the Enlightenment, and is a champion of rationalism and humanity. As such, it was inevitably opposed to large elements of the European Old Order. This can be seen in the writings of John Locke, Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Frederic Bastiat, and in the speeches and writings of Cobden and Bright.

2. That, during the 1880s, libertarians in England became increasingly alarmed by the progress of state socialism in its various forms that they entered into an alliance with the landed aristocracy, which was itself worried about the tendencies of the age. The most obvious sign of this alliance was the Liberty and Property Defence League.

3. That the decline of the landed interest after 1914, and the global challenge of Soviet socialism required libertarians to go into a new alliance with corporate big business.

4. That this need has evaporated since 1989, and libertarians are free to choose their friends in ways that were not possible before.

5. That, while the English landed aristocracy was perhaps the most liberal ruling class in history, and that compromise with it was natural and even desirable for libertarians, corporate big business is little more than the commercial arm of an utterly malign ruling class that legitimises itself by cultural leftism and maintains its global hegemony via the military-industrial complex.

6. That libertarians are perhaps mistaken when they worship actually existing capitalism as if it were a variety of a genuinely free market, and when they implicitly regard the poor as enemies and dismiss the complaints of the poor as hostility to free markets.

7. That libertarians should focus more on showing how the established order of things hurts the poor – by using the tax and regulatory structures to raise the minimum scale of output and stop the poor from starting micro-businesses that would free them from the oppresion of bad employers and the welfare authorities.

Much else is covered, including intellectual property and whether Britain and Slovakia should leave the European Union.

For technical reasons, this is an audio file only.

5 responses to “Sean Gabb Speech in Bratislava

  1. Various big landowners had various different political opinions.

    For example, some big landowners opposed the policies of Thomas Cromwell under Henry VIII, some did not mind (even benefitted from them).

    The Civil War of the 1640s was dominated on both sides by big landowners – there clearly was no “landed interest” in play in that.

    Some big landowners opposed the French Revolution – but some (such as the Duke of Bedford – inspite of Burke’s warnings) supported it.

    Even in classic “Landed Interest” things like the Corn Laws one could never really tell – as some big landowners would come out in favour of repeal, and some would (as expected) support the Corn Laws but point out (in Parliamentary debates) that as big horsebreeders (or whatever) they personally were hurt by the Corn Laws.

    Traditionally I suppose there is a landed interest – in favour (in France and so on as wel as England) in favour of limits on Royal power (at least where it came to land ownership – a big difference between Western and Islamic civilisation being the higher level of protection under Feudal law for DE FACTO private land ownership, even if officially it is not private land ownership at all).

    As for corporations – some owners of big corporations have libertarian political opinions (for example the much hated Koch brothers) other owners of big corporations have very different political opinions.

    There was a wrong headed 19th century British movement against large private estates – and some otherwise good people got mixed up it.

    The Founder of Wicksteed Park did (Charles Wicksteed) although had the political demands of the movement been followed he would not have had land to turn into a park.

    Even Herbert Spencer (in his youth) got mixed up in this.

    I think it was based on David Ricardo’s work – on interpretations of it.

    So is anti business stuff (by the way) – hence “Ricardian Socialists” (which would have baffled David himself).

    The modern twist on this bullshit (and it is bullshit) is “anti corporate”…….

    Although there are lots of things that should be done – such as stopping the undermining of invidual shareholding via Captial Gains Tax and Inheritance Tax.

    Broadly speaking (although there can be lots of land owners with really terrible poltiical opinions) privately owned landed estates are a “good thing” (both economically and socially).

    And (again broadly speaking) companies with strong individual and family ownership of shares (as opposed to “faceless corporate bureacracies”) tend to be a good thing also.

    But that is about as far as one can go.

    If an landed estate is really badly run it will go – even that ancient estate in Staffordshire which had even survived the Norman Conquest.

    Yes – your family estate had survived invasions, wars, plague and so on. But it can not survive business mistakes. I think that is very sad – other people (such as Gabb and Carson) might wish to celebrate. But it is POLITICALLY none of our business.

    And (to flip over) a corporation can carry on without the family in charge can do reasonably well.

    For example, DuPont was run (for centuries) by the DuPont family – but it has not been for quite some time now. But it seems to be going on reasonably well.

    When it makes mistakes (or some other company does a better job) then DuPont will go down.

    Should libertarians be interested in destroying large family estates OR companies?

    Of course not – but this is the Sean Gabb LA.

    They will not attack wild Welfare State spending – because that might irritate the knuckle dragging “White Nationalists” whose support they wish to attract. So they go on about the “landed interest” and “corporations” instead.

  2. As the good socialist that he was, didn’t Hitler do some legislation or other in the 30s, the effect of which was either to close down or nationalize all businesses with turnovers under 40,000 Reichsmarks?

    I’m sure I read it in “The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich”. I will have to look it up. This is definitely “minimum scale of output” stuff.

    • The German form of socialism is more subtle in practice. Hitler did go around denoucning corporations (especially department stores – for some reason), but in power he adopted German “War Socialism”. The more radical program the National Socialists started with was played down. Although Jewish big business was still hated by the Nazis.

      Private ownership is in theory continued – but profits, dividends and… (well everything) is under state control.

      It does not work – German War Socialism was a mess during the First World War (see Von Mises – Nation, State and Economy), but it looks impressive.

      You can trace the ideas back to Frederick the Great and so on.

      But for the modern form – see Von Mises “Omnipotent Government” and Hayek’s “The Road to Serfdom”.

      Sometimes big businessmen can be irritating – for example Henry Ford’s anti semitism and monetary crankism.

      But, in the end, they are just people.

      If they do more harm than good – their business does not prosper. Even government subsidy does not stop that – not in the long term.

  3. An interesting titbit, David. Every statist State prefers a small number of big businesses to a large number of small ones; a few Captains who can be called in by the Minister for mutual back-scratchery. I read The RIse ANd Fall Of The Third Reich a long time ago.

    I find myself somewhat squeezed in between Paul and Sean here, which of course nowadays the State might interpret as some kind of “extreme imagery” and lock me up. I do not agree with the Carsonesque round denunciation of “big business”. The reality is that in any truly free market, there will be a range of business sizes to suit particular market conditions. It is hard to fabricate semiconductors in your local machine shop, and many enterprises such as railways are inherently big businesses, because trains are rather large. I appreciate that this model denounces railways en masse as innately capitalist running dogs, but I’m inclined to differ on that score.

    However I do think that the model of capitalism which evolved in practise has considerable divergence from “free markets” and I put the fault for that squarely at the feet of the kind of business men who voted for Chamberlain-style “new liberalism”; that is men who made themselves not merely owners of businesses but determined to be a rulnig class. There is, I repeat, noting wrong with having a large successful business. Using that money to gain political and social power, that’s the problem.

    • Of course Radical Joe was an arch anti tradition man. He and those who followed him did not think in terms of their own benefit – they were noble reformers doing good (vomit at this point).

      Not all cities went the same way. Manchester went statist before Birmingham did – but Newcastle did not (private companies, not local govenrment, provided most services there). Of course this was in the old world (before the First World War).

      Statists do sometimes prefer a small number of big companies (and cartels) as more easy to control – but they can vary (sometimes overnight).

      The New Dealers are baffleing (as are American statists generally). One minute it was the National Industrial Recovery Act and a cartel of big business for each industry, the next minute it was break everything up antitrust.

      I used to try and make sense of it by thinking of different factions of statist “Progressive” – but then I found out the same people could follow wildly different policies from day to day.