Monday, 18 May 2009

My journey to Libertarianism: 3

(Part 2 is here)

During the 1980s, my political outlook was to change. While in 1979, I had felt completely at home in the Liberal Party, by the mid-80s, I was feeling less so. When the party merged with the SDP in 1988, I didn’t join the new party - not because I opposed the merger, but because it seemed like a convenient time to leave. I became disengaged, independent, a floating voter.

The main change in my outlook was my complete disillusionment with socialism. It may seem strange that it took place under a Conservative administration, rather than under a Labour government, but the behaviour of the Labour Party in opposition didn’t exactly help. One problem was that while I believed in a socialism of helping the needy, I came to suspect that socialism as practised in Britain was more likely to produce a society where poverty and dependency were institutionalised, rather than eliminated.

But there were underlying issues that were more serious. There was the growth of the entitlement mentality. People felt they were entitled to everything, courtesy of the tax-payer. (No, I’m not thinking about MP’s expenses.) The slogan “Education is a right, not a privilege” struck me as the slogan of people who expect everything to be handed to them on a plate. This was associated with a dependency culture, where people felt that it was somebody else’s job to do things (i.e. central or local government’s) and so instead of doing it themselves, they lobbied for other people to do it for them. And worse still, it seemed to me that far from being about altruism, for most voters, the appeal of socialism was really self-interest. And that was on a good day. A lot of the time the motivation seemed to be little more than envy.

Yet another thing that bothered me was the fact that many socialists had so little respect for freedom that they didn’t believe that people should have the right to use their money to pay for private education or healthcare. (And in the early 1980s, these were mainstream Labour views.)

The failings of capitalism under Thatcher seemed like pretty minor failings compared to the failings of socialism.

And so, by the late 1980s, I had decided that while I didn’t know which party I supported, I knew which one I was against. The natural response was to move as far away from it as possible - i.e. toward the Conservative Party. But while I might have been prepared to vote Conservative to keep Labour out, the Tories, as a party didn’t actually appeal to me.

And libertarianism? It was pretty much off the radar, except for the libertarians who were making inroads in the Federation of Conservative Students. My main memory of this was an item on Radio 4 news about these libertarians - who by that stage were being purged from the party. The report described their beliefs, including the legalisation of incest. A Ph.D. student of my acquaintance reacted negatively and vigorously. In fact, so violent was her reaction, that I thought it was probably not worth telling her that this probably didn’t mean what she thought it meant. And, to be honest, it certainly didn’t do anything to attract me toward libertarianism.

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