From Thatcher, to Friedman, to Rothbard, to Hoppe

tory tree chop down

My Progression to Anarcho-Libertarianism and My Debt to Milton Friedman

My resignation from the Conservative party was accepted yesterday. When I joined the party in late 2009, I was rather ‘traditionalist’ and generally ‘centre-right’; I was the typical Tory. My understanding of the differences between capitalism and socialism was near non-existent and my faith in the former was pretty weak. I had no philosophy, no justifications for the random and conflicting conclusions I would jump to, and no thoughts which were truly my own.

After a year I had become a Thatcherite and therefore I was deluded enough to believe that monetarism was compatible with a free-market and that the state needed to pass laws banning the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools. My belief in Thatcherism and its vaguely free market policies was due to increases in GDP and standards of living during the 1980s and beyond. I have not departed, and will not depart, from the view that the huge tax cuts and decent levels of deregulation enacted by the Thatcher administration were extremely beneficial – not to mention the sharp increase in interest rates, though I have different reasons for supporting an increase in interest rates after artificial, inflationary booms.

In mid 2012 I began to listen to some of the other things that Milton Friedman said, for instance his support of the legalisation of drugs. I was shocked at first, but he made a pretty good case for it and lots of other stances which I then considered to be ‘left-wing’. It was around that time that I started what was to become a huge but rewarding task of reading all the major libertarian treatises. My attention was grasped by David Friedman’s ‘Machinery of Freedom’, mainly for the reason that he was Milton Friedman’s son. At that time I took almost everything Milton Friedman said as gospel and so I figured that if he was right, his son was going to be right as well.

Finding that Thatcher was rather inconsistent, I abandoned Thatcherism altogether and became a ‘minarchist’ – an advocate of a night-watchman state. Yet, by then I had not even considered the libertarian theories of justice, I had only considered the possibilities that a smaller state would lead to greater total levels of utility, as suggested by David Friedman. Once I had read ‘The Ethics of Liberty’ my approach to politics and philosophy was changed irrevocably for the better and I finally became an anarcho-capitalist. Now grounding my political philosophy on logic rather than mere statements, I’m in no way able to justify the existence of a state. “Capitalism is the fullest expression of anarchy and anarchy is the fullest expression of capitalism”, to quote a hero of mine.

It was about 3 weeks ago when I finally found even Murray Rothbard to be lacking somewhat. My approach to the realm of political philosophy had been mainly an ‘if-then’ and an ‘is-therefore’ type of objective ethics – a mixture of Rand and Rothbard. However, late last month I turned to argumentation ethics which is the praxeological justification for the private property ethic. The last article I submitted to this website was my own modified version of a praxeological justification for the homesteading principle.

Thus, becoming so engrossed in the specifics of anarcho-libertarianism, it is rather difficult for me to ever call myself a ‘conservative’ as there is nothing libertarian about the United Kingdom to conserve, unlike the USA where they at least have a constitution. And with the vast majority of the party, at least the parliamentary party, against the libertarian stances on issues such as drug legalisation, punishment, gay marriage, privatisation etc, it is difficult for me to support such a party. Furthermore, the two Tory MPs who claim to be libertarian – Carswell and Baker – often tow the party-line and have no influence whatsoever on the centre-left leadership of David Cameron.

The reason for my resignation is purely based on a loss of faith in conservatism itself. By no stretch of the imagination could I ever conceivably be called a ‘Cameronite’ or a ‘progressive’ and the chances of Hannan, Carswell or Baker ever leading the party are close to non-existent – not that even they would come close to satisfying the Hoppean anarcho-libertarian that I have become. Also, what really is the point of having a libertarian leader of a conservative party? And what is the point of having just one term of vaguely libertarian policies and then electing Ed Balls 5 years later to reverse the progress? My view is that it is better to first educate and persuade the public of the absolute, immovable and logical principles from which all of our policies follow and then to attempt to get elected based upon the support which we have won – not in the reverse order. If there is an absence of that type of sound justification in politics then just about anybody can get away with passing just about any law.

But something which I have realised, and I may offend many libertarians who hold the same views and use the same a priori justifications as myself, when writing this brief summary of my progression to libertarianism is that it was only after hearing utilitarian arguments that I ever considered reading about our ‘natural rights’. Without Milton Friedman, as much as it pains me to say it now as a rationalist, I would not have begun to distrust government power. Without David Friedman, I wouldn’t have considered the possibility of anarchy being ordered, structured and utility maximising. And it was only after reading the works of the Friedman family that I ever thought twice of reading the book that turned me into an anarchist – The Ethics of Liberty. As a rationalist, as a praxeologist, as a believer in absolute rights, I have nothing but contempt for the followers of Milton, and even David, Friedman. But as a libertarian, I can only thank the Friedmans and wish the best of luck to their followers and hope that they take the same path that I took.

It was only through the great publicity gained by Milton Friedman that many were convinced of the gross incompetence of the state when intervening in the economy, and that is a crucial first step for many libertarians. It’s rather difficult to convince people of the justice of something when they are convinced that it is ‘impractical’ and ‘absurd’ – consequentialists, then, play a very important role.

I suppose what I should say to summarise is that many libertarians do get too bogged down on what may well turn out to be fairly insignificant differences. As long as we all have a common goal, who cares, to be perfectly frank, about why we want to get there? You don’t refuse to get on a train simply because others had different reasons for doing so. Why, then, shouldn’t utilitarians and natural rightsers, empiricists and rationalists, minarchists and anarchists co-operate more often? Of course, the a priori of argumentation is still the single-best justification for the libertarian private property ethic, but that won’t stop me supporting a utilitarian politician as long as he is sufficiently anti-state.

  • C. T.

    Thank you so much for this! It very much mirrors my own journey.

    • Keir Martland

      Glad to hear that. I think many were actually exposed to libertarianism through Thatcherism.

  • Guy Montrose

    I also resigned from the Tory Party and joined the Libertarian Party UK.

    • Keir Martland

      It’s splendid to know that one can make a name for one’s self outside the AuthoriTory party.

  • Mike Rees

    I think that the reason we get hung up over such minor differences is because our ideology is one of moral consistency. I could not bring myself to vote on utilitarian grounds because I would also be pledging my support to things that do not align with my morality.

  • Richard Carey

    Interesting journey. I wonder where you’ll be in five years!

    • Keir Martland

      Ha, so do I. Preferably in a stateless society…

  • BB

    Congratulations on reaching the logical end of individual liberty. If you haven’t read this yet, it should be the very next book on your list: Libertarian Anarchy: Against the State by Dr. Gerard Casey. It is outstanding!

Sign up for The Libertarian Newsletter

* = required field