The Left is celebrating the death of the ‘Neo-Liberal Consensus’, the political consensus that has dominated Western democracies since 1980. Characterised by enthusiasm for private enterprise, privatisation of state owned assets and (somewhat limited) belief in the virtue of the free market, consecutive governments adhered in varying degrees to this paradigm for more than 3 decades.
Now it seems the battle of ideas has been lost, but not in open battle. It has been lost by forfeit. Shortly after her ascendency to the top of her party, Theresa May unveiled her agenda called ‘The Shared Society’: ‘It is the job of government to encourage and nurture the social and the cultural unions represented by families, communities, towns, cities, counties and nations’, it read. As we pointed out at the time: ‘This matches the world view of the Left, who has long believed state and society to be one – and it is anathema to the very idea of a free society. It emphasizes the collective over the individual, it legitimizes violation of property rights in the pursuit of the common good. Government can legitimately intervene in any social relation to ‘correct the injustice and unfairness that divides us wherever it is found’, as May puts it.’ We went on to say: ‘Rejecting the Thatcherite view of society is not just rhetoric. It creates a slippery slope towards increased collectivism. The problem is that she endorses the world view of the Left, abandoning the arguments for the individual over the state. It is intellectual surrender and marks the end of an era.’ How right we were. Less than a year later, a hapless election campaign bereft of ideas demonstrated the intellectual surrender. The neo-liberals are defeated. The collectivists are resurgent.
The battle seems lost, but the war is not. It is time to re-engage and make the case for free market capitalism, the only system with a track record of delivering prosperity for all. We are amongst the voices who have already called for this.
However, as libertarians we face a dilemma. We must recognise that we occupy a space on the fringes of the political debate. While we recognise the damage the state is doing, we must accept that the vast majority regard the state as a force for good. Making theoretical arguments about the feasibility of a private justice system is not going to win the battle of ideas that is relevant to practical politics. We should accept that engaging is such philosophical discussions is a luxury we may currently not be able to afford. A much bigger battle is taking place. The British public is being seduced by the easy answers of socialism and the implications could be disastrous.
It may then be time to put aside talk of the non-aggression principle, minarchism and anarcho-capitalism for a while and focus on making a coherent case for capitalism in a framework that has relevance to the average voter. We need to recognise that the relevant battle is taking place in the centre (or to the left of centre) of British politics. If we lose the war to the collectivist mindset, freedom will suffer more than it could ever benefit from theoretical discussions amongst ourselves.