Britain and the Reversion to Ancestral Ways (2013), by Sean Gabb

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Britain and the Global Reversion to Ancestral Ways:
A Speech Given to the Conference of
The Traditional Britain Group,

Held in London on the 19th October 2013.

[What began as laziness, and then settled into method, is that I do not prepare speeches in advance. What I do is to prepare a mental list of the things I feel inclined to say, and of the order in which I might say them, and then to leave the manner of saying them to the inspiration of the day. If there is a written text, it is usually prepared after the event. After decades of practice, this usually works rather well. Because there will soon be a video of it on YouTube, you can judge for yourselves whether my speech to the Traditional Britain Group was any good. Here, for the moment, is what I probably said.]


I think you will know, ladies and gentlemen, about the Socialist Workers Party. If not, this is an organisation that has spent the past four decades latching on to every working class grievance in sight, and using it to promote the good news of Trotskyism. For example, the workers at a button factory in Leeds might go on strike in some dispute over tea breaks. Sooner or later, you will hear the raucous chanting and see the unmistakeable font of the banners that tell you the Socialist Workers have turned up.

During the three decades of its existence, we at the Libertarian Alliance have been paying close attention to these tactics; and we do, to the best of our ability, try to imitate them. Our people go to conferences of traditionalist conservatives, of sado-masochistic porn worshippers, and even to student union meetings and the occasional Islamic group. Our purpose is the same as the Socialist Workers: it is to convert as many people, no matter what they initially believe, to what we believe.

Of course, there are differences between the Socialist Workers Party and the Libertarian Alliance. We have no booted thugs to put on the street, to beat up or intimidate our opponents. Above all, we are honest about our intentions. We do not seek to lead people deceptively and in stages to what we regard as the truth. Instead, we delight in proclaiming that truth, as loudly and as clearly as we can, to all who will listen to us. This being so, let me tell you what we believe, and would like you to believe as well.

We want to live in a world where every human being has equal rights to life, liberty and property. I will not specify the meaning of this phrase, but it includes the right to follow what some of you may think utterly degenerate ways of life. We believe in legalising all drugs, and guns. We have no moral objection to homosexual marriage or homosexual adoption. We believe in completely free markets, and in the scientific and technical progress that these enable. Our only objection to progress is that it has not been completely unfettered, and therefore that its curve has not yet turned completely vertical. We regard the natural world  - for which many of you have a mystical veneration – as a vast repository of resources to be used for reshaping the world for our increasing wealth and general convenience.

You will appreciate, then, that I have little time for many of the philosophers and writers who have inspired some of you. I have read much Nietzsche, and some Julius Evola and Francis Parker Yockey, and am loosely familiar with Alexander Dugin. I follow the Counter Currents Blog and AltRight and The Occidental Observer and other publications that a well-brought up libertarian should never confess to knowing about, let alone to reading. And, while I appreciate the frequent brilliance and occasional insight to be found here, I have not been at all convinced. Indeed, what I appreciate is largely a critique of the present order of things that is partly shared by libertarians. When it comes to the replacement of this order with another – when it comes to actual prescriptions of what ought to be – I really think the whole collected mass of these writings has contributed less to the wellbeing of mankind than a single railway bridge built by Brunel.

Does this mean I should not be here? Does it mean that I have nothing to say that you should feel obliged to take seriously? I hope not. As well as a libertarian of sorts, I am also a conservative of sorts. I am deaf to the beauties of Nietzsche and Evola and the other foreign conservatives. But I am profoundly impressed by our own conservatives – Burke and Lord Salisbury and Enoch Powell, among others. These men have taught me much about politics and how to think about politics.

Moreover, I believe that, in a country like England, the defence of liberty is often best made through a defence of tradition. Most people do not think much about political and legal philosophy. This is not a criticism, but an acceptance of what is. When, therefore, it comes to defending institutions like trial by jury, the best defence is not an abstract case for an independent power in the legal process, but to say that the institution has always existed in England, and that it always should exist. It is the same with all the other protections of our legal system, and with freedom of speech.

Then there are the accommodations that any libertarian of sense needs to make with reality. I have said that I want to live in a world where everyone has embraced libertarianism. I want to convert China and black Africa and even the Islamic World. I am ultimately a universalist. At the same time, I accept that, at the moment, not every people is equally inclined to libertarianism, nor will be for the foreseeable future; and that it is not sensible to allow those places where a limited form of libertarianism exists to be settled to the point of obliteration from places where no libertarianism can presently be found. To be clear, I am against mass-immigration from the third world. Those libertarians who arrive, by some process of semi-geometrical reasoning, at the idea of open borders have no understanding of the world as it is, nor any chance of being taken seriously on other issues.

It is the same with hereditary nobilities, or established churches, or evidently coercive taking part in institutions such as trial by jury or a citizen militia. For the sake of maximising the liberty that can exist in any particular time or place, we need to accept incidental breaches of the equal self-ownership principle. And this means an often large concession to the conservative defenders of an established – or recently disestablished – order of things.

Now that I have explained the nature of my own accommodation with conservatism – an accommodation that is, in its approach, pretty common among libertarians – let me explain why you conservatives and nationalists should embrace libertarianism.

The first reason is that you have no consistent choice. You belong to a nation the history and laws of which have been the raw material from which every liberal or libertarian doctrine has been refined. Ours is a country where, for many hundreds of years, we enjoyed freedom of speech and faith and association and contract, and where they have not yet been wholly taken from us, or taken by any semblance of democratic process. Ours is a country where power has been formally and informally limited, and where the authorities have always been more or less accountable to the governed. Your favourite writers – usually foreign – denounce Bacon and Locke and Newton and Hume and Darwin and all the others as the purveyors of some moral poison. But you cannot regard these men as eccentrics who just happened to be born on the same island, and who systematically perverted the thinking and the institutions of that island. For the most part, they are celebrated because they put consistently and memorably into words only what their countrymen already thought or were inclined to accept as the truth. If you are an English or British conservative, you must – unless you want shamelessly to misrepresent your national ways – also be a libertarian.

The second reason is that, even if you reject free markets and the idea of a small and limited government, you will be mad to suppose that a large and activist government is likely to bring about and sustain the kind of order that you may want. Every institution of, or connected with, the British State belongs to what we all understand by what I call “the left.”

Leftist thinking is absolutely hegemonic within the ruling institutions of this country. The left is the institutions. The institutions are the left.

Assume that, somehow, you were to take power tomorrow. You could parachute each other into the leading positions in the state bureaucracy, or in the universities and the BBC. But you would need to run these institutions through the existing management. They understand what they are running, because they have grown up within it. And they are many; you are few. You would find yourselves pulling levers and pressing buttons that were disconnected from the effective machinery of control. You might be in office. The left would remain in power. It would take a generation to displace it – and you would not have the luxury of a generation to bring about these changes.

There is much to be said, then, for at least a conditional libertarianism. You cannot have the big state you may want. You should investigate how little state is actually needed to keep things running. That must lead you to a better acquaintance with libertarian economics and legal and political philosophy than you may so far have possessed.

I regard myself as a conservative among libertarians, and as a libertarian among conservatives. Because I am an Englishman, I can be both. Leave aside the state socialists – who, though regrettably successful, are a recent and a foreign intrusion into our national life – our political spectrum runs from very traditional conservatives on the one hand to rationalistic libertarians on the other. And there is, in the centre, a wide area that is neither exclusively one nor the other, but where elements of both are – sometimes harmoniously, sometimes jarringly – combined.

All this being so, I call on you to recognise the logic of your position, and to explore the libertarian side of your folkways.


[This is a tidied up version of what I said. I suppress a digression on a global return to ancestral ways. This turned out, as I spoke, to add nothing to my argument: I put it there because my speech would otherwise have had no obvious connection with the title I suggested without thinking what I might say.

One additional point worth recording is my answer to a question about what I thought of a young German who spoke very ably in English, and without notes, about his involvement in the identitarian movement, which seems to be rather important in some European countries. My response is that I am a bourgeois liberal. I have a preference for peaceful and, so far as possible, legal campaigning. There may be circumstances where influence will need to be gained through putting boots on the street. But this would take me in directions that I find most undesirable, and that are best avoided.

In general, this was the most interesting one day conference that I have attended in many years. Because they were all recorded, and will be made available on YouTube, I see no reason to summarise or discuss the other speeches. But I thank the Traditional Britain Group for having invited me to listen to these speeches, and for the great indulgence that it showed for my own. The lefties have made a fetish of “diversity.” I am not the first to observe that what they mean by this is letting people of all colours and genders and sexualities mouth at each other the same dubious platitudes. The only diversity that matters – which is of sincerely-held opinions – is something more often seen among the enemies of the left. So it was here.]