by Benjamin Marks, Economics.org.au editor-in-chief
O fortunate age! O happy times! in which shall be made public my incomparable atchievements, worthy to be ingraved in brass, on marble sculptured, and in painting shewn, as great examples to futurity! and O! thou sage inchanter, whosoever thou may’st be, doom’d to record the wondrous story! forget not, I beseech thee, the trusty Property and Freedom Society, the firm companion of my various fate!
~ Don Quixote de la Mancha1
Complying with Rothbard’s strict unanimity criterion, Turkey is the only modern day libertarian country. It is difficult for those who don’t speak a word of Turkish to comprehend the marvel, but I was able to get a good taste after interviewing scores of English-speakers in Turkey, all of whom were anarchocapitalist. This must be due to the diplomatic manoeuvrings and popular scheming of Turkey’s Property and Freedom Society (PFS), especially its annual meetings, with The Honourable Hans-Hermann Hoppe as host alongside his wife Gülçin as “the indispensable framework”. I was very fortunate that the 7th annual PFS meeting coincided with my recent visit to the southwest Turkish city of Bodrum.
Bodrum has so rich a history that it is even where “the father of history” Herodotus resided, and so, although I do not claim to be a professional historian, its history of historical awareness plausibly explains how it became the most libertarian country in the world today. The conference venue was the Hotel Karia Princess, which sounds like a cruise ship, and in the beginning of its history the evidence would indicate that it was a cruise ship that decided to stay put at the best location rather than travel to pick up passengers, or, more likely, to return them. The rooms were large enough for a modest harem. The food! The food was fit for a: libertarian. And the drinks! At 16 months since the last Property and Freedom Society meeting, it was a long time between drinks. And for Duncan of the U.K., Doolittle of the U.S. and De Roeck of Belgium, it looked like it was also a long time between meals. Evidently drinking like a fish has a different meaning to eating like a fish. It is very libertarian to think of progress as weight loss.
What I found most representative of PFS was a conversation I had involving the youthful Kinsella jnr. He is understandably so familiar with censoring his opinions that his father had to remind him that it is okay to speak his mind at PFS, which Hoppe proclaims a “political correctness free zone”. I think everyone struggled a little with this; jetlag was a non-issue compared with turning down our self-censorship settings. Many of us had forgotten where our self-censorship setting was, as we find it easier to just change the channel. I wonder if the popularity of sport can be explained as simply people finding somewhere where they are allowed to speak their mind and genuinely speak out in plain language against the opposition.
What I found fiercest was the very gentlemanly Karl-Peter Schwarz chastising Václav Klaus and Tyler Cowen for their opposition to returning land confiscated by governments to its rightful owners.
What I found funniest was Hoppe reading out the many functions of government that Hayek supported. Next time Hoppe delivers that speech there needs to be an intermission. But even without an intermission, or any time constraints of any sort since Hoppe wrote the schedule, even then! there was still only time for the speech to be just basically a list of where Hayek supported government.
What I found most exciting was Professor Salerno continuing to emphasise the importance of public opinion, especially to fractional reserve banking.
What I found most encouraging was the fact that the radical Peter Wong of Hong Kong’s Lion Rock Institute has not in any way been silenced by China.
What I found most interesting was the new or underexploited genres of libertarian activism that many of the attendees are exploring. I think their aim is somewhat similar to my aim for Economics.org.au, which is: to fail differently to everyone else. Michael McKay of Radio Free Market fame has an idea that is not yet for public release, but here are short summaries of some of the other ideas which are public:
- Oliver Janich of Germany runs a libertarian political party called: the Partei der Vernunft (the Party of Reason). That’s the first party name I’ve seen worth mentioning in the same breath as Australia’s Rothbardian political party in the 1970s: the Workers Party.
- Andy Duncan of the U.K. says the Rothbardian movement should write more novels to reach a broader audience, since we have already outdone every other viewpoint when it comes to academic books. Although I don’t pretend to be an expert on Professor Hoppe, I’m sure he agrees, as the title of his recent books Myth of National Defense and Great Fiction clearly demonstrate. Don Quixote de la Mancha would agree too! And so would two Australian authors: Vinay Kolhatkar of The Frankenstein Candidate and Mark Tier of Trust Your Enemies.
- Dominic Frisby, also of the U.K., has the ridiculous idea of combining comedy with libertarian activism. Crazy! But cool. Check out his videos. On the power of political comedy, Tom Lehrer liked to quote Peter Cook who on the opening of his Establishment Club in London said it was modelled on “those wonderful Berlin cabarets which did so much to stop the rise of Hitler and prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.”
- Frank Karsten of the Netherlands has written a great monograph or pamphlet or short book called Beyond Democracy. It features a brilliant and helpful list of the 13 myths of democracy, making it easier to tear apart, un-mishmash and de-conglomerate the fallacy-combos that supporters of democracy use, and leaves them unreconstituted. The great thing about a publication that length is that it makes it hard for people to dismiss it as either: too complicated to be comprehensible or too simplistic to be sound. Instead, unfortunately, they will probably dismiss it as: confusing, or not complicated enough, or not simple enough.
- Jeffrey Tucker of the U.S.S.A., through the Laissez Faire Book Club, is creating an active digital learning community, funded by its users rather than donors. Other than financial advice newsletters, a profit-funded libertarian education organisation is almost unheard of. Nev Kennard was a big fan of profit-focussed libertarian activism, often admitting to me that he could never work out how to do it, but that that is where we should be exploring.
- And for yet another innovative attempt at libertarian activism from Jeffrey Tucker, there was his swimming attire, which included (but was not limited to) a detachable cotton collar complete with bow tie. This is no doubt a homage to its namesake, Étienne de La Boetie, who pioneered the idea that government requires the support, even if only in the sense of passive acquiescence, of the population. It is a homage in the sense that people will no longer support government after they see Paul Vahur’s photos of Jeffrey Tucker, because, as the insightful director of Mises Institute Brazil, Fernando Fiori Chiocca, explained:
This can advance libertarianism as never before. Every single person that sees this image will want to know who the heck is this guy with a bow tie and shorts and what he thinks. Then they will discover freedom.2
A great informal “behind-the-scenes” record of the conference is this video series by the steady hand of Joakim Fagerström of Mises Institute Sweden featuring candid comments, inside gossip and ambient lighting. Here is a randomly selected sample of his brilliant video interview series.
Fagerström thinks libertarian ideas will be more likely to catch on in Sweden if they are translated into Swedish. He also thinks that economics is a science that does not admit of exceptions, which sets him far apart from his countryman Johan Norberg, who gets more utopian the older he gets, and currently unrealistically supports majority rule and even government monopolising many important industries.
The programme for PFS was so impressive that the speaker whose work I was least familiar with was: my own. I think it showed.
I learnt a lot about how government functions in the northern hemisphere by speaking to people from the U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Germany, Italy, Austria and the U.S. It is very different to southern hemisphere governments. North of the equator, government spending goes down the drain counterclockwise.
What was mournfully missing from the meeting was the presence of the most radical free-market advocate in the world: Ron Manners, whose Mannkal Economic Education Foundation will next month be celebrating 15 years. I thought he attended every meeting on the planet involving very diverse shades of free-market advocacy, being an active member of the Mont Pelerin Society, on the Board of Overseers of the Atlas Network and a great supporter of the Australian Mises Seminar. If you doubt my comment that he is the most radical free-market advocate in the world, then check this out:
With over 40 years’ experience in business, let me tell you that a business must choose between complying with every tax and regulation or surviving. It is a simple decision, but you can’t do both. There is a war on between taxing authorities and the business community and the fact that your livelihood as tax agents (where applicable) is dependent on a licence issued by the enemy makes me doubt the effectiveness of advice offered under such duress.
Let me suggest that the Australian Accounting Profession’s total preoccupation with compliance, rather than resistance, has contributed greatly to those who earn their living by political activity. There is an old saying: “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you” — well, we must now “stop feeding the hand that bites us”.3
Furthermore, in Manners’ brilliant book, Heroic Misadventures, he says he never travels business class because he does not want to risk sitting next to politicians.4 Well, there’s a real and present danger of sitting next to politicians at MPS, but not at PFS!
(To prevent misunderstandings: I’m not asking Mr Manners to sponsor or subsidise me; I just think he would enjoy going, and maybe he could send some of his Mannkal scholars and students who are often generously sponsored for other international educational activities.)
Neville Kennard was missing in action too. The morning after I came back from the 2011 Property and Freedom Society meeting, I drove down to his country property to tell him what he missed, as he had to cancel his trip at the last minute for surgery. I was invited for breakfast, but stayed for lunch and dinner, because he was so interested. And now that he has an even better excuse not to have gone to the 2012 meeting, I guess I’ll have to debrief him at even greater length.
The Property and Freedom Society is, in some ways, like the castle where “the valiant Don Quixote de la Mancha, redresser of wrongs and scourge of injustice”5 regained his health. After the conference, once we were all refilled, refreshed, re-armed and re-armoured, we then “longed fervently to depart in quest of adventures, thinking every minute [we] spent in that place, was an injury to the world in general, and to those miserable objects who [require our] favour and protection.”6 We could not continue to keep our insights to ourselves, with so many substances to legalise, ailing economies to cure, corrupt “businessmen” to expose and ignorant minds to save. We were at risk of being held complicit in criminal acts for withholding information about the terrible injustices in the world. We were harbouring knowledge that could lock up fugitives, compensate poor innocent victims and prevent future crimes. So we left Bodrum even quicker than we arrived. We arrived to listen and learn, then left to talk and teach. Enough! Such guilt. Duty calls. History must be made. Revolutions must be triggered. Governments must fall. Universities must close. Newspapers must topple. So much to do!
- Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote, trans. Tobias Smollett (New York: The Modern Library, 2004), pp. 23-24, vol. I, bk. I, ch. II. With sincere and heartfelt apologies to Rozinante. ↩
- From conversation in a private facebook group. ↩
- Ron Manners, “Accountants, Australia Needs You: An Address to the Australian Society of CPAs Resource Conference,” The Horatian, Spring 1994, pp. 26-31. ↩
- Ron Manners, Heroic Misadventures (West Perth, Australia: Mannwest Group, 2009), p. 201. The book’s website is HeroicMisadventures.com. See also RonManners.info. ↩
- Don Quixote, p. 40, vol. I, bk. I, ch. IV. ↩
- Don Quixote, p. 143, vol. I, bk. III, ch. III. ↩
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