Learning Liberty: Libertarianism and its Principles

Backbencher April 10, 2013 3

 

Gavin Webb,

Gavin Webb is Founder of the Independent Libertarians Network, a UK libertarian political party structured not as a traditional party, but as a network for individuals to better reflect the libertarian ideas of liberty and voluntarism.

The word libertarian in the UK seems to be used far more frequently now than it was ten years ago. This was around the time I started to become disillusioned with the liberalism inside the Liberal Democrats and the hostility often shown to me by some of my colleagues because of my liberal views.

This culminated in my overtly referring to myself as a Liberal Democrat (Libertarian) much to the chagrin of many fellow LibDems. This was my attempt to differentiate myself from the pro-EU, pro-regulation, pro-State liberalism which, in my view, bastardised the whole idea of what it was to be a liberal. In the eyes of the public, liberalism was ‘woolly’, when the reality is of course different. Eventually in 2008 I left the LibDems.

Since those early days of my transition to ‘coming out’ as it were, the word libertarian is used far more often in the wider world outside of internet forums. Unfortunately, not many people understand what it means, but when they think they do it is often shrouded with negative connotations – that libertarians are selfish creatures and therefore uncaring towards their neighbours.

But not only is libertarian synonymous with being a little peculiar or anti-social, it is regarded as being anti-community. Why? Because on the one hand libertarianism is still largely an academic endeavour with many discussions taking place on the details of what a libertarian society would look like; and on the other, it’s been hijacked by people who are really conservatives who may believe in a little more freedom here and there.

dont tread on me

To counteract the misconception of what libertarianism is, I say that libertarians must themselves become active in the community and, just as MPs can become out-of-touch by living in the Westminster Bubble, libertarians must break out of the libertarian equivalent to avoid being out-of-touch themselves.

Yes, libertarians – including myself – would like to see the welfare state significantly scaled back, even abolished and replaced by charity and mutual societies. However, in the real world outside of the lofty ideals of libertarianism are real people living real lives with real problems.

My argument is not to undermine libertarianism and its principles, nor to allow waste or mismanagement or corruption to continue. No, I say that libertarianism and liberty-minded individuals have a lot they can offer people in terms of education, guidance, friendship and courage.

Sometimes, it is too easy for libertarians to look down upon or even dismiss people because ‘they don’t get it’. Indeed, some libertarians have a tendency to look down on other libertarians because they’re not libertarian enough. I think this is a mistake and will not help the campaign for a freer society in the long-term. I believe that as libertarians we shouldn’t dismiss anyone; we should show empathy for other people’s views even though we may be vehemently against them. After all, I know libertarians who once considered themselves socialists.

No. Whether someone is socialist, conservative, green or something else, I think there is value to listening to their arguments and, if possible, finding common ground to see if we can move forward in the direction we want to go – influencing the agenda.

Introducing liberty steadily and consistently, rather than in one go will help us in our goal. Saying to someone who is used to the state education system that we want to abolish state education is likely to be less palatable of an idea than, for example, increasing parental choice, introducing free schools, reducing the national curriculum, reducing the compulsory school leaving age.

Learning liberty is a journey which might eventually lead to more people ‘getting it’. As the train travels down the track, let’s deal with things station-by-station, getting new people on board; being conscious of the destination, but not fixated by it. If your only interest is the destination, you could well miss picking up new passengers on the way.

Steady, consistent, face-to-face community activism – that’s what’s required if libertarianism is to develop and succeed in the UK.

Gavin Webb is Founder of the Independent Libertarians Network, a UK libertarian political party structured not as a traditional party, but as a network for individuals to better reflect the libertarian ideas of liberty and voluntarism. 

He regards himself a minimal government libertarian who, wherever possible, walks the path leading to no government 

He has served as a city councillor in Stoke-on-Trent as a Liberal Democrat (Libertarian) and later as a Libertarian before standing down in 2011.

He is contesting the Uttoxeter Town Division seat on Staffordshire County Council as one of two Independent Libertarians.

Website: http://www.indylibs.com

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