Saturday, 25 April 2009

My journey to Libertarianism: 2

(Part 1 is here)

When I arrived at university in 1979, I joined the Liberal Party, and was, for several years a Liberal activist. It suited my soft socialist outlook on life. The Conservatives, particularly under Margaret Thatcher, were a party that didn’t care about the poor - or so it seemed to me. So I assumed in my childhood innocence that Labour were the good guys. But with the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977, I came to realise that Labour believed in compulsory nationalisation. I was horrified. It seemed totally wrong to me that the state should use its power to take other people’s property. And even state ownership of the means of production seemed questionable. My socialism was a socialism of helping the needy, and to me, state ownership was not the same as poor people becoming better off. For that matter, state ownership was the not the same as ownership by the people - ownership of something means power to choose how it is used, and ordinary people have no power over how state owned enterprises are run. Furthermore, the Labour Party also supported the closed shop, and I thought it was unfair to force people to join a union if they didn’t want to. Freedom was important to me.

My time in the Liberal Party was positive in many ways. First, John Stuart Mills’ book On Liberty was spoken of with great reverence. I don’t know how many people actually read it - I didn’t - but respecting it has to be a good thing! Second, the Liberal Party was a party that believed in free trade. I was already committed to free trade, because I believed then, as now, that it is a force for helping the world’s poor to escape poverty. Third, the Liberal Party was committed to decentralisation, and community politics, and I became more convinced that it is better for decisions to be taken locally rather than centrally - as locally as possible, in fact.

However, there was one incident that indicated that my views on freedom were not those of the Liberal Party. At a meeting of party activists in 1984/85, one respected member spoke about being involved with members of a socialist group in disrupting meetings of the National Front (or BNP - I cannot remember which). I asked what the NF/BNP were seeking to do in the meetings, and discovered that they were just meeting and talking - the meetings didn’t involve public protest, provocation, or law-breaking. A few of us didn’t think that trying to disrupt these meetings was very liberal,but most people there didn’t seem to see a problem. I found it difficult to believe that members of the Liberal Party apparently believed that freedom of speech and freedom of association were only for those whose political views were not repugnant. I was quite shocked.

Later that evening, I told a close friend about the incident. He just smiled, and said “You libertarian, you.”

I wasn’t of course. Not yet, anyway.

1 comment:

patently said...

freedom of speech and freedom of association were only for those whose political views were not repugnantQuite; Voltaire would turn in his grave.