Is
it folly to ignore art?

In Sean Gabb’s latest talk to the LA he seemed to
have embraced a completely bogus thesis viz. that art aids society in general,
especially the morale of the ruling class.

Sean also feels that the progress of the LA has been
very disappointing and he expressed the rather odd idea that this was because
there is not enough libertarian art. Some libertarians on Sean’s LA blog agreed
with Sean on both art and on the more realistic looking idea of a lack of liberal
progress since 1979, especially on the futility of LA activity, but, despite appearance
on that latter idea if we have different ideas from the LA on the progress rate
of the spread of ideas, if the LA was right in 1981 then that is a similarly
unrealistic outlook on expectations of progress from libertarian propaganda and
some of those who agreed with Sean even expressed that it was not clear to them
of whom the enemy of liberalism is, or of what progress of the pristine liberal
idea would amount to.

I will begin with a short re-statement of what I
take to be the main content of the 1981 purpose and strategy of the LA.

The main idea is that ideas change slowly. We cannot
realistically ever expect rapid progress. We can witness instant conversion, of
course, in the odd individual case, but customs change way more slowly, for
most people are conservative with a small “c” and so tradition is often against
change, but customs do change nevertheless. It simply takes time. It takes
decades, or even centuries, rather than days or weeks.

There is short run propaganda and long run
propaganda that manifests in society in two forms of politics, that we might
call 1) practical politics and 2) theoretical politics. Harold Wilson, a career
politician, rightly said that “a week is a long time in politics” and this was,
and is still, clearly true for his sort of politics.

Theoretical politics, or ideological politics, would
haply be better off with the statement that a decade is not very long in the
aim of changing society. But slow change does take place.

The LA was never thought to be a pressure group to
get practical politicians to do just one thing, such as the Anti-Corn Law
League, or recently, the UKIP [though they decided to go into a party before
their pristine aim of getting out of the slowly emerging super-state was
achieved] but rather it was a long run ideology group. The aim of the LA was to
muster propagandists or “intellectuals” or extraverts who habitually tend to
foster or change public opinion. They may not be bright people but they are
usually outspoken.

It usually takes about fifty years to make
noticeable headway in this quest to change fundamental ideas. Such propagandists will be few in number yet
they matter way more that the general public in this quest to change
fundamental customs, here the aim is to roll back the state.

The foremost violator of social liberty is the
state; so our enemy is the state. Getting that rolled back, or reduced to zero,
is the aim of the LA, and recruiting the propagandists is the peaceful means to
that long run aim; but tax cuts are fine in the short run. But no results can
be soon attained and facile pessimism and disappointment in the LA needs to be
carefully dodged. Pessimism is not realism.
A rise in membership to a thousand or two thousand in five to ten years
would be success for the LA. That is
what we thought in 1981.

How do things stand now? We had a bad upset in 1982,
of course. Before then we seemed to be growing quite well.

The Internet shows support for ideological groups
and below is the statistics for meet-up groups.

50 Socialism meetups: http://socialism.meetup.com/

5,377 members

238 Feminism meetups: http://feminism.meetup.com/

42,389 members

442 Conservative meetups: http://conservative.meetup.com/

73,728 members

487 Libertarian meetups: http://libertarian.meetup.com/

74,410 members

Now
I will give an account of Sean’s talk then criticise it, as well as a few
comments made by others on the blog. Sean, more or less, said the following:
that at the end of the 1980s many thought that libertarianism was doing well.
We had seen off socialism. Most were optimistic but one young man was not: Sean
Gabb.

What
have we achieved in 25 years? One LA puts on monthly meetings. My LA collects money but apart from keeping
the movement in being, it seems not much has been done.

It
might be different in the USA, but I doubt it.

Since
the 1980s it has been stagnation or decline for libertarianism. We are all
intellectuals and that is the problem.

I
always thought it was stupid to get people talking at bus-stops but nowadays we
do not even seem to be doing that but only talking to ourselves. This is not
the way to win debates or to influence the world.

How
did the left come to dominate things? They were not concerned with mere ideas.
They won because they focused on culture.

Films
made by John Ford starring Henry Fonda spread leftist ideas by a narrative and
a world view that rendered them acceptable. J.B. Priestley in the play, later a
film An Inspector Calls (1954) with
Alastair Sim delegitimises the past. We all have duties, not just rights. I read the play at school.

It
is the likes of J.B. Priestley and George Orwell that count, and even G.B.
Shaw, though I always thought he was a bit of a windbag, but they all three won
the day, but not Laski. Laski and Marx are not all that important.

All
this culture established Political Correctness [PC] but The New Statesman and The New
Society
, Marcuse, and the like, are not so important but art succeeds
brilliantly.

The LA go on about von Mises and so not
surprisingly we are ignored. We ought to produce novels and plays or ballet
rather than books on economics. No one reads books by Eamonn Butler.

The
left have took over as they focus on what is important. We need a counter narrative in the UK. It is
a bit better in the USA, as there is more of a culture for libertarianism
there. They have novels, music, film-makers there and similar are needed here.

We
need libertarian poetry, ballet, novels for we need to give up going on and on
about the economic calculation argument [eca] and defence problems. We have had
40 years but there are no libertarian film-makers yet.

Hayek’s
Road To Serfdom (1944) had no
particular influence but Orwell’s 1984
(1949) and Darkness At Noon (1940)
Arthur Koestler did influence have a great impact and those books destroyed
communism in the UK. I was converted by 1984
but I was not much affected by The Road
to Serfdom.

Lenin
and the Bolsheviks won out owing to art. Eisenstein, Shostakovich and general
Socialist Realism culture made the late USSR look glamorous. On recent visits, I look up at the tops of
the buildings of the tower blocks and I see excellent art. It was not Marx or
the theory of the Bolsheviks that maintained the USSR for so long but the
art.

Do
you associate art and libertarianism? I don’t.

There
Sean handed it over for discussion.

I
think that art plays no part at all in politics. That we have zero allows us to
be exact about its actual role.

Sean
has his own theories about the ruling class but my own view on class can be
prefaced by what Marx said on class for he said we can classify people as we
wish but objective economic interests is what matters and I would say that Marx
got nowhere near discovering such objective class interests, for there never
were any to be found. In fact, there are none. So, far from history being full
of class struggle there are no classes like the ones Marx imagined, none at
all, in history. The Marxist meme of class is pure Romance. There is a ruling
class [i.e. a group in government and in the administration of the various states]
but no objective economic class interests.

Sean
seems to have overlooked how bleak establishment thought it was in 1944, when
Hayek wrote that book. One man it did influence was Orwell, who wrote a review
of it. He had thought, beforehand, that capitalism was doomed. The Times in the 1940s was full of the
over confident E.H. Carr editorials stating that the market might not last even
another week. It all looks silly today and the cited book was a factor. Hayek was a way bigger factor in ending all
that gloom than Orwell or Koestler ever was.

As
for ballet, has even Sean ever been to a performance of that? Girls seem to love
it but I am surprised to see a man even mention it, and Sean seems to be about
the only male that I have known to do so, but then I do not know a female who
does not claim to have wanted to be a ballet dancer and actively aimed at it by
dancing when young. Until Sean’s talk, I thought only females ever cared about
it. It clearly does not influence politics very much, if at all.

I
read 1984 in 1968 but I saw it as
anti- Bolshevik rather than anti-socialist. It did not affect my, then, enthusiastic
socialism one bit.

As
I said, the media is not dominated by the left today. They feel that it is,
instead, the right wing that dominates the BBC, but I would agree that that is
not very realistic of them and I think they are even less realistic than Sean
is, in that respect. I think the BBC is more statist than market biased, as it
is state owned [though it began as a private company], but they do try to be
fair.

The
enemy is the state. Some socialists imagine that they, too, are against the
state. Orwell was one. I used to be another.

The
liberal idea is the top idea today but few see they need to get rid of
illiberal ideas to be coherent on it, at least not outside the LA. So the
majority of people today do not see the state, especially democracy, as
illiberal. But the LA does.

Culture
itself [culture qua culture] never
matters much, as it is too vague and nebulous anyway, but the things that do
matter will often be cultural; like the nation, love, justice to cite but three
items out of many that are important for people.

One
chap said that the state might decide all our entertainment. But what
entertainment thrives depends on what sells, not on the rulers. Politicians
often pretend they like that, but whether they do, or not, hardly matters much
to the masses. When Gordon Brown pretended to like Cold Play he haply alienated
more people than he successfully pandered to. In any case, the ruling class
cannot determine successful entertainment.

What
the LA opposes is cultural but it is also illiberal; it is the state. Liberty
uses private ownership as a means but no one who thinks clearly defines liberty
as mere private ownership. I do not need to own things to be free. To think so is to be confused.

Of
course the shorter word, liberal is more apt than libertarian, as many on the
blog rightly said, and one chap said those who are against liberty should be
called puritans, but many puritans can be liberal. So statist is clearly the
proper name for those who want to restrict liberty, not puritan.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Sean
replied:

“I’ll begin the comments by thanking David for an
accurate and fair summary of what I said last week. Beyond that, I’ll only
repeat myself that we do seem to have been barking up the wrong tree – forty
years devoid of measurable success.

The Great Schism of 1982 may not have helped. On
the other hand, two fairly vibrant Libertarian Alliances emerged from that. The
truth is that we had no impact on British politics when we were a unified
movement, and none when we were spitting venom at each other, and none when we
came to our senses and became friends again.

Look at it this way. Christ was crucified in 33AD.
Within thirty years, there were enough Christians to be worth blaming for the
Great Fire of Rome. In 1983, Peter Tatchell lost a safe Labour seat because he
was outed as a poofter. Thirty years later, we had gay marriage. In the early
1960s, South African apartheid seemed unshakeable. Thirty years later, it had
fallen apart. In 1985, we were talking to each other and hardly anyone else.
Today, we are talking to each other and hardly anyone else.

Oh – thirty years ago, some of us were predicting a
police state. Today, we live in one.

You don’t get a paradigm shift in five years. But
we’ve been in this game longer than the average life expectancy of 1900. We
ought by now to have some indication of success. We are so marginal, I don’t
believe we are being watched even passively by the security services.”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Thank you for your reply and criticism, Sean, and for
making my reply into an independent blog article.

I think we are barking up the right tree but we need to
be way more active. However, even if we were as active as I wish we were and
there had been no upset in 1982, so there had been a more robust LA all along,
as well as a better one today, things would haply look much as they do today. It
is not so easy to see the results of long run liberal propaganda in the short
run but it is clear how silly the1940s The
Times
columns of E.H. Carr look today.
I think Hayek was the main factor there but it is not at all easy to exactly
measure progress.

I do not think that two active LAs emerged from the 1982
upset but rather that an active base in London was cut off from the national LA
network. Things never were quite the same again. Both groups were weakened compared to the
pristine LA.

It never was the aim of the LA to directly affect British
politics. We were out to capture the extraverts, or propagandists, and to bias
them against politics and more action
by the state.

Christianity has a nominal success but a “Christian” is
as ignorant of the creed as an Irishman of actual Irish history or a Marxist of
the ideas of Karl Marx. But the main fact here is that versions of the creed
were going a lot longer than only a few years between when Paul converted and
the persecution of the creed by the Romans and Paul converted to a network that not even his energy
created in the short time that you think. There never was a pristine Jesus
Christ, of course, the word never was made flesh, but we pitch his death just
before Paul converted to the creed, but I think the network was being built up
a long time prior to then. G.A. Wells
once said he thought it was around about three hundred years prior to Paul.

Do you feel that if Peter Tatchell had a heart attack on
failing to win that safe Labour seat then daft David Cameron would be any the
less keen on gay marriage, such that we would not have it today? You seem to be
the complete Romantic, Sean!

Ever since 1962, Christianity has seemed utterly perverse
to me. It is phenomenal that it ever
caught on, even with brilliant and hard-working propagandists like St Paul
spreading it. But so is a Conservative
Prime Minister pressing for a gay
marriage law that must alienate most of
his natural supporters, and the fact that a Conservative party ever wants to modernise is also phenomenal.
The majority are always going to be conservative. Even New Labour upset many
people by modernising. Those examples
certainly show the power of ideas, or of fashion, or of both. But the long
march of what we now call Political
Correctness [PC] was going long prior
to 1900. It is, basically, the very perverse ideal of Equality.

South Africa did not
look solid in 1960 to many, certainly not to me, but it had the USA on its side
at that point for there was, back then, about as much apartheid in the cities
of USA as there was in South Africa.

PC need not be statist, of course. Many liberals, maybe
most liberals, have been exceedingly fond of the crass idea of equality. It has
never been the very top idea. Liberalism is! It was in 1800. Maybe it was very
much before then too. As I said above, in the now blog article, few people want
to vie or mesh their ideas together for coherence. They simply do not see democracy, or even the state, as
illiberal. But the LA is right that it clearly is such. But it is not obvious
today. It will be in the future. This is because people are not often
interested in those things, just as they are not often interested in art. If
the public do not look, then they will not see even the clearest things.

That you were about the only one who looked up at the top
of the buildings on your visits to the lands of the late USSR should have told
you about the little effect on others was of the excellent art that you enjoyed,
Sean.

Statist PC is not only illiberal but totalitarian thus
the emerging police state you cite, Sean. But the ideal of PC, which is
equality, the market, has served way better than the state ever can, and the
free market would serve even faster and better but it would be free of totalitarian
coercion.

Adam Smith saw
that fact back in 1776. He felt that the workings of supply and demand tended
towards price equality and he was quite right.

Now the economists have developed the theory of the price
system, it is way easier today to see that he was right. There has been a long
run societal movement towards equality beginning long before 1776 and it
continues to happen to this day, off-set only by short run new inequalities introduced
by innovation, invention, amongst other things, like new fashion, that tends to
make the whole process a levelling up one. The luxuries of one generation that
had to be in short supply to begin with have often become the everyday goods of
the next, and this the statists call “trickle down” just as they call
competition “cut throat” but both are
social boons. Nothing needs to fall from a table and no throats need to be cut.
That is merely the hyperbole of statist propaganda.

Indeed, profit is the hallmark of social service just as
taxation is the sign of abuse towards others. The market is largely colour
blind, indifferent to homosexuality, but it does not privilege groups by
coercive law, as statist PC does, but then such privilege flouts the PC ideal
of equality, as politics cannot be even or just, to one and all.

Politics has to oppose some group as the enemy, a
Romantic ideal that is anti-liberal to its core but it is anti-equality too. So
PC ought to go free. Liberalism has an
institution
as an enemy rather than any class of people, including the
ignorant ruling class. De jure
statist equality law is always de facto
privilege.

When Enoch Powell said in 1968 that a constituent told
him that in ten years’ time the black man would have the whip hand over the white
men he might have replied that they already had the metaphorical whip hand since
1963, as the whites were under-privileged in relation to the blacks privilege owing
to the racial discrimination laws of that year.

Sean, the plain fact is that we have only just begun to
talk to each other theoretically. I
do hope we continue a little before we decide break off. I have no idea what
your ideas of class amount to. But I am an ex-smoker so not the best chap to
champion the liberal right to smoke, and similarly, as an ex-Marxist, I tend to
think class is sheer bosh rather as I tend to think that Christianity is, as an
ex-Catholic.

But I ought to confess that I do not mind being marginal,
or unnoticed, by my enemy the state. As people, I wish state employees, at any
level, no harm at all. The Enlightenment outlook, which I champion against the
Romantic reaction that reacted against it, has no enemies. That politics intrinsically
gratuitously uses proactive coercion against at least some people is the major
fault of the state and it is why politics can never be fair.