Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Libertarianism - an assault on social justice

. Over the last few weeks there have been vigorous debates on this blog and elsewhere about and between myself and others and various strands and proponents of libertarian thought. This has applied to both individual libertarians like Charlotte Gore and representatives of organisations like Liberal Vision.

It is worth noting at this juncture that the organisational nature of the libertarian presence within this party is rather shadowy. Mark Littlewood has consistently denied for example, that Liberal Vision are a factional platform within this party despite substantial evidence to the contray. Liberal Vision also has links to Progressive Vision; links which Littlewood says are tenuous but in reality are much stronger. Littlewood is Director of Communications for Progressive Vision. The launch of Liberal Vision is also heralded on it's website in these terms;

"Progressive Vision has launched Liberal Vision, a campaign group for Liberal Democrats".

So, Mr Littlewood are Liberal Vision a 'campaign group' on behalf of Progressive Vision or independent 'ginger group'? Meanwhile, giving credit where it is due the Libertarian Alliance seem much more open about how they organise but there program is no less an assault on the notion of social justice and this parties commitment to that than that of Liberal and Progressive Vision. They want to reduce tax bills to "less than the average phone bill" without, of course, mentioning the colossal damage this would do to public services; the beggary this would reduce people too etc, etc.

I am all for the rolling back of state power as I believe a majority of people are and this gives me personally some common ground with libertarians over issues like the ending of prohibition (though not the ending of prohibition of gun sales). However, whatever your wider view of capitalism as a system (and here I accept my radicalism places me in a vast minority) there are undoubtedly cases where the state has a moral duty to step-in and provide in those places the market can't and that is why I am willing to set aside my radicalism and support policies which aim for the establishment of greater social justice in the name of what Charlotte regularly sneers at; the 'greater good'.

It is my view that this party is a historic alliance which brings together people who believe in that social justice and unites them despite what views they may have on maintaining that and it is my belief that libertarian thought and its creeping organisational influence is a threat to that commitment held by this party. Blogging on this somehow doesn't feel like enough and I would like to start a debate on what people feel should be done.


mhuntbach said...

As I've said before, I find these people very much like the Trots of old. They have jumped on a very simplistic ideology, which appeals to simple people who are a bit detached from real life. Like the Trots of old, they jumped on this ideology just when its failings when put into practice were becoming obvious - and their response to anyone making this point was that when it was done in practice it wasn't being done properly and the answer was to do it in a much more extreme way.

Because it appeals to simple people, it appeals to people who have a lot of time on their hands, so they have plenty of time to argue into the ground anyone who opposes theme but can't spend hours in meetings (in the old days when it was the Trots) or writing to blogs (in these new days) to counter them.

To be honest, the dismay I felt when I started looking at LibDem blogs and found out just how this way of thinking was beginning to grow in our party, particularly amongst younger people who seem to be pushing themselves forward to be the party's future, has led me to the point where I'm feeling less and less inclined to do anything in the party.

Well, fine, let the libertarian bloggers take it over, and see how they get on when they don't have any of these nasty "left-wing activists" they so despise left to do the work.

Darrell G said...


Speaking as an ex-trot (in younger days) I can certainly empathise with alot of what you say though I definatly do not want to see them take over this party. Amoung other things it would lead to electoral disaster....

wit and wisdom said...

The only way to defeat these people is through sound arguments, which bloggers have been doing for days now.

To my mind there is no question of them gaining a stranglehold over the party since they are a small niche and they are so far removed from the mainstream views of the vast majority of the membership.

Keep up the good work but cleave to this key fact: no one reads blogs - including mine!

Charlotte Gore said...

Ah the return of Mr Huntbach. "I'm far too brainy to have time to respond to these libertarian bloggers!! It's not fair!!" You're priceless, you really are.


Social Justice is a central plank of New Labour's vocabulary and rhetoric (although it has been used before that, obviously), it is used to justify virtually everything they do. But it's just a way of saying 'socialism' or 'collectivism' that doesn't scare the middle class swing voters. Social Justice sounds nice and friendly, and sounds like an absolute objective that can be achieved rather than being some esoteric theoretical 'ism'. It's effectiveness is demonstrated with the fact that your main argument against libertarians is to state, "what about social justice? We can't abandon social justice!" and that sounds like a logical, sensible point to make when what you're actually saying is, "what about socialism? We can't abandon socialism!"

In addition, from a party political point of view, if you really do care about his party, then you can see that by falling for another party's rhetoric, you are asking us to adopt Labour's vocabulary and political frames, and ultimately their values. It's self defeating, because you're promoting another party's ideas. Why go for the copycats when you can have the true believers?

My whole point is there is no way, once you've accepted the 'greater good' as a valid reason to selectively remove certain liberties from certain people innocent of any crime but having something that you want (usually cash, but sometimes it's businesses, sometimes intellectual property), then you're going to do collectivism the same way Labour does it. It's their baby. It's what they exist for. It's who they are, down to their core and they do not suffer from the same conflicts about this what we have in this party. They merely argue about implementation: The specifics about who they should help and who's cash should be confiscated to pay for it. Their idea of 'third way' is simply to show some kind of self-restraint in order to keep the economy going and keep themselves in power, something they've been good at until now (at least if a boom on the back of £700 billion of credit is 'success' at keeping the economy going - that's just stealing from the future, something the Government is now hell bent on redoubling as our only hope of salvation).

New Labour is no more sophisticated, clever or well thought out than that. Electable Socialism. The End. So be careful about throwing around terms like 'social justice' - you don't seem to understand who's hands you're playing into.

Darrell G said...


You are masterful at them but this really has to rank as near the top of the list of your ill-conceived diatribes. It is laughable to accuse me of trying to import another parties ideology when your friends in Liberal Vision have shadowy links to Progressive Vision which is programmatically close to another party.

Secondly, as has been demonstrated through the course of this debate what you say is patently not true. Liberalism does have a historical 'social justice' side. Thirdly, if this was the case would I have not been found out during the course of the debate?? If what I am saying is the case why are other people who are Liberal Democrats saying the same thing??


Lol, I know what you are saying but I do feel more is required especially when these people do have organisations to back them up (well Charlotte doesnt but you know what I mean).


Anonymous said...

"It is my view that this party is a historic alliance which brings together people who believe in that social justice and unites them despite what views they may have on maintaining that..."

How long back in the history did you look? Not much marks of social justice in the days of Gladstone, I'm afraid.

Darrell G said...


This is true but especially around the era of Asquith, Lloyld George there is evidence of social reforming tendencies. I accept that there is something like split DNA BUT people like Charlotte are performing major a-historical surgery to present their ideology as the 'unbroken thread'....we all know life and history is more complicated than that...

Tristan said...

mhuntbach has no clue what libertarianism is, not an uncommon occurrence in the LibDem blogosphere (or in general).

Libertarians tend to be very widely read, we tend to challenge ourselves and think about things far more than any others I've met.

The standard of intellectual pursuit amongst libertarians is far higher than any other political group I've met.

Libertarianism is in no way simplistic - only someone with a mere passing acquaintance could believe that. As for 'detachment from reality' I think you should try meeting many of us before casting such slurs.

As for 'Wit & Wisdom', he certainly has not been countering libertarianism with any intelligence or sound argument, but what is to be expected from people who don't make any attempt to understand libertarianism?

And again - nothing from libertarianism has actually been tried. Neo-liberalism is not libertarianism, just as it has little to do with much of classical liberalism.
Are people seriously accusing New Labour of being libertarian? Or Thatcher? Section 28 anyone? No libertarian could stand for that. Or the meddling in the economy.

First rule of criticising something in an intelligent manner - find out what you are criticising.

The other thing people should think about: Is electoral success the driving force behind their politics? If so bugger off and join the Tories - they seem to be pushing the right buttons.

I don't know if any of us are trying to take over the party. Most of us would like to see a more liberal party, with a friendliness towards libertarianism, rather than a socialist party with an outright hostility to much of the liberal tradition.

Darrell G said...

...All of which goes to prove Tristan that you have no idea what socialism or a socialist party is; as I have said before this party is a hybrid, it is an alliance but there is precedant for that concept within the history of liberalism itself.

Tristan said...

Now for some of the content of your actual post:

Libertarianism, at least for those of us in the LibDems and others on the libertarian left is concerned with what might broadly be called social justice, we just prefer to avoid that term because of the connotations of state provision.

The difference between us and you is that we don't see any need for the state to provide services, we actually see the harm that the state does where it seeks to help. This all stems from the use of force and presumption of the political classes to know what is best, plus the openness to corruption.

Poverty is the default state of humanity, but the state does not help the masses get out of poverty, it hinders them. It places obstacles in their way.

Libertarians point out the places where the state harms people, we seek to develop alternatives to the state.

(now, in the brief space, I have, is that simplistic?)

Tristan said...

Oh and mhuntbach - Jock is one of the most active LibDems I know. Not just within the party, but outside. Many of the 'left wing activists' could learn a lot from him.

There's also whole branches of libertarian thinking which advocate community action and activism.

I'm sorry to upset your straw men (again), but I'm sure that won't stop your fun in knocking them over (again).

Darrell G said...


Well it is patently not the case that all libertarians are interested in social justice. The problem Tristan is that your view of the world is just as idealised as those people you oppose.

In place of the state you put the market as the provider of the things that the state does now and my view this is less realistic and more harmful than having the state provide those services.