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Greg Lindsay, “The vacuum of libertarian scholarship,” freeEnterprise, April-May, 1976, p. 3. Thanks to the legendary John Zube and his Libertarian Microfiche Publishing.

In Australia, the need for libertarian thinkers is probably of far more importance currently, than the need for a libertarian political party. It was Hayek who said in 1949:

Unless we can make the philosophic foundations of a free society once more a living intellectual issue, and its implementation a task which challenges the ingenuity and imagination of our liveliest minds, the prospects for liberty are indeed dark.

Despite the demonstrated cruelties and economic failures of any socialist society ever attempted, the Australian people are being told persistently that further increases in government intervention in their lives will bring them even more happiness. And whereas in most cases the very opposite is happening, the people continue to fall for the persuasive propaganda — and with what justification? As Professor Irving Kristol points out rather succinctly:

Nevertheless, the response to this state of affairs among our educated classes is to demand still more government intervention … on the theory that a larger dose of what should be good for us will cure the illness caused by a smaller dose of what should have been good for us.

I return to my original contention and add that if there is to be any groundswell of libertarianism in Australia, there must be a firm base of sound intellectual scholarship to feed any other sort of action, be it political or whatever. Socialism has not achieved its position today because the “workers” have felt that they were being badly done by. It is an intellectual movement, full of theories that any well-read libertarian could demonstrate as false, and it was the intellectuals who carried their dreams to the people. However, it is the dearth of just these well-read libertarian intellectuals, that is going to prevent the attainment of any libertarian ideal.

We have not very much to go on.

A libertarian movement has not existed in any size at any time before in this country. The number of truly libertarian academics may be counted on one hand. And now there is a possibility that some of our most talented and intelligent libertarian thinkers will burn themselves out in politics pursuing rather unrewarding hack work with a resultant lessening of the drive towards true libertarianism. This would be of ill ode for libertarian thinking in this country as well as disastrous for libertarian politics. The foundations of the future will in effect be removed as it is being built.

The situation is now, that it has been the socialists who armed themselves with ideas and persuasive programmes, who routed those who had invested in lobbying and politics.

I am by no means suggesting abandonment of political action; I am just a little worried that we are putting the cart before the horse.

There is irreparable damage being done to libertarian promise right now because of a lack of knowledge, leading to half answered questions and partly developed arguments, which is worse than no answer and no argument.

Collectivists thrive on various types of irrational and promotional polemicism to spread their damage. There does not require to be truth involved, just a response to some emotional need and the message is sold. Libertarianism which is based on reason and hard facts can answer all socialist fallacies, and yet it doesn’t. We are reticent, unsure and perhaps a little afraid of being unpopular, though convinced of being right.

We are susceptible to the sort of argument that Rand calls, “argument from intimidation,” like, “You can’t believe in capitalism” or “You can’t favour the legalisation of drugs” or “Classical economic theory has never worked” — a plague of silence upon you and yet there has not been any justification for their errant statements. I recall being attacked some years ago for my capitalist sentiments by the son of one of our more left Labor senators — he finished by saying, “Socialism is the only answer, just look at China.” Perhaps at this stage of argument it is too late, but I confess I was frustrated and I couldn’t really answer him, for what did I really know about China? For that matter, what did he know? Too often arguments reach this point, the self-righteous: “It is no use arguing with you. You’re wrong, nobody thinks like that.” No! We cannot allow situations of this type to end in deadlock or with the other side scoring points through illogical means. A libertarian society being the only just society (and don’t try to argue with me on this one) is easy to defend with pure reason. It is most definitely open to all scrutiny and facets of its social interaction are consistent with its underlying philosophical premises of freedom and responsibility.

What is needed then is the development of the necessary people who can transmit the libertarian message of freedom throughout society. We must concentrate on scholarship and research so that libertarians may carry with them the necessary tools with which to build a free future. The vacuum must be filled.