Tag Archives: UKIP

As Sanders and Trump Push the Right Buttons, the Liberty Movement Must Wake Up

Four years ago, Ron Paul filled stadiums with tens of thousands people. His natural heir to those numbers – and in fact, his natural heir – is Rand Paul.

But in this presidential cycle, the huge excited audiences that are filling stadiums for an insurgent, anti-establishment presidential candidate are mostly coming to see Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

As an activist for liberty, I am pained by the failure of the similarly anti-establishment and still-largely-insurgent liberty movement to replicate either Ron Paul’s successes of four years ago, or the successes of its present political opponents – a democratic socialist, Sanders, and an I’m-not-sure-what-to-call-him, Trump. This failure arises from the movement’s consistent blind spot for strategic political communication.

There are many fundamental truths about human psychology and political strategy that the liberty movement has to learn before it can truly succeed. I discuss them at length in my seminars on political persuasion. This article is about only one – the one laid bare by Sanders and Trump – which is broadly captured by a rather nice quote:

“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” Jose Ortega y Gasset

Recently, Bernie posted a nicely produced, animated video about economic injustice.

The first 5.5 mins of this video simply present facts about some of the more shocking truths about wealth and income distribution – truths that disaffected Americans hear only from the Left. They are facts like…

  • Today, real median family income is $5000 less than in 1999;
  • In the last two years, the wealthiest 15 people (that’s not a typo) in this country have seen their wealth increase by more than the total wealth of the bottom 40% of the population;
  • In the last decade, the typical middle class family has seen its wealth decline by 31%;
  • In the last three decades, the share of the nation’s wealth owned by the bottom 90% of Americans has fallen from 36% to 23%.

These are statements that both resonate with people’s experiences and are, at first pass at least, outrageous; so they are very powerful and they cause those who hear them and care about them to gravitate to those who share them. But these statements are as true for a libertarian or a conservative as they are for a socialist, and they are felt every bit as much by the voters that libertarians and conservatives need to court as those needed by progressives – because, obviously, we are all fighting for the same voters.

Until people start identifying these facts, which signal concern, about economic justice with the liberty movement, the movement will not gain the popular traction it seeks. Until we start clearly expounding the injustices that are actually felt by millions of people, including the economic ones, those people will simply not believe we are the people with the solutions.

Put another way, if we are not regarded as the people who really understand the problem, then no one will care enough to listen to our solutions. They will not care to listen when we try to explain that most of this injustice arises from cronyism, corporate welfare, the treating of non-persons as persons, and the making of markets less free; they will not listen when we complain that true capitalism – which is voluntary exchanges among individuals for mutual benefit at the expense of no one else – is being used as a cover for state-sponsored financial corporatism.

The essential error exhibited by most liberty activists is the idea that the most important thing in changing people’s political minds is what you say about various issues. It isn’t. More important is what you choose to talk about – the facts and issues you choose to lead with. That’s Ortega y Gasset’s quote above, applied to politics.

To a first approximation, most politics are the politics of identity, which means that either I can broadly imagine what it feels like to be you and to see the world as you see it (I identify with you), or I cannot. If I can, then when I listen to you, I will be subconsciously asking, “can I believe you?”… and if I can, you may persuade me. If, on the other hand, I cannot broadly imagine what it feels like to be you and to see the world as you see it (I do not identify with you), then when I listen to you, I will be subconsciously asking, “must I believe you?”… and I will only be persuaded if I cannot find any fault with your position at all – which is never the case if I didn’t already start by agreeing with you.

This is important because we get people to identify with us – and so open them to persuasion – when we reflect back to them what they are already thinking or feeling.

And the most effective feelings to reflect back in politics – and especially non-mainstream politics – are feelings of injustice that are not being adequately addressed by the political establishment.

Accordingly, Donald Trump speaks bluntly about immigration and immediately connects with a very large minority of voters who have been feeling that there is something essentially both unjust and important about what is happening to the country in this area. Similarly, Bernie Sanders speaks bluntly about economic injustice and immediately connects with a very large minority of voters who have been feeling that there is something essentially both unjust and important about what is happening to the country in this area.

At times of great political disaffection, such as these (with the membership of the Republican and Democratic parties in secular decline and the number of those registering Independent/unaffiliated increasing), speaking stridently about issues that are seemingly impossible for the mainstream to deal with elicits “identification” on another level too: it reflects back to the average voter his disaffection with the political process, itself.

This combined response to injustice and feeling understood is extremely powerful – immediate and visceral. Consider the speed with which both Sanders and Trump have gone from being obscure or entirely absent as politicians, respectively, to near political celebrities. (Obviously, one orders of magnitude more than the other because of the huge difference in media attention that is being paid to both.)

This constant of human nature works across cultures, languages and times.

Look at the rapid rise of the anti-austerity party in Syriza in Greece, or even more interestingly, of the anti-E.U. UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) in the U.K. Both went rapidly from non-existence to a major force in their country’s politics by owning a large issue that offended the human sense of justice of a large minority of people who felt completely unmet on that issue by all of the mainstream parties.

I tested this a year ago on a trip to England, when I asked recent converts to, or sympathizers of UKIP (some from a completely different part of the political spectrum), why they favored UKIP. They usually did not respond that they firmly agreed with UKIP on various issues, or even one. Rather, they said, “they are the only people who are talking about …” In other words, UKIP spoke to these voters because it spoke about a concern they already had but was unacknowledged by the political mainstream. In many cases, UKIP’s voters – like voters of all parties – couldn’t even tell what their party’s policies or solutions were. They knew only what the party cared about, based on the topics that the party chose to talk about. And in the cases of both Syriza and UKIP, the parties were talking about something that didn’t offend any political ideology, but rather, offended a basic human sense of fairness. In Greece, that was the ability of German policy makers to set economic policy in Greece for the benefit of non-Greek financial institutions, and in the UK, it was the ability of foreigners to makes laws for British citizens, on the one hand, and to come to the UK to receive welfare to which they’d never contributed – all exacerbated by the seeming inability of the British people themselves to change either of those things at the ballot box.

This point about “injustice” is especially for the liberty movement. A feeling of injustice that can be effectively tapped into by insurgent or anti-establishment political movements never depends on a political ideology: rather, it precedes ideology. It is, to repeat myself, visceral. Interestingly, experiments show that people will actually pay – i.e. hurt themselves – to rectify clear injustices in their close community, even among strangers, and their tendency to do so is unmediated by any particular belief.

Civil rights is an issue that should be owned by the liberty movement. We should be banging on about the abuse of rights that is endemic in our nation – not because we need to prove ourselves right but because it is outrageous, and we must connect with people’s outrage. And to that point, we need to talk about the problem more than our solution because, still, thanks to our derelict media, most Americans don’t have a clue about the depth of the problem. But when they do find out – hopefully from us – they will be outraged, and they will seek the solution firstly from the people who informed them of the problem.

Economic justice similarly is an issue that should be owned by the liberty movement – and the movement shouldn’t be scared to use that pair of words, either. We should be banging on – like Sanders – about economic injustice – not because we consent to the Left’s definition of the term, but because, when it is caused by state-corporate cronyism, favoritism, corporate welfare, and an unjust monetary system, it is indeed outrageous.

We are fools to allow the average American to hear about the economic unfairnesses in our society only from the Left. If that is from where America hears about those problems, then that is where America will go for their solutions. Similarly, we are fools to allow the average American hear about the problems of unmonitored immigration only from Trump. If he is from whom America hears about the problems, then he is to whom America will go for their solutions.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we accept Sanders’ or Trump’s solutions to either of these problems. It means only that our solution becomes credible to people because we have shown ourselves to be as driven as them by the underlying injustice.

Consider these two statements.

  • I am a capitalist because I am for freedom, and capitalism is best way of reducing poverty.
  • I am for reducing poverty and so support the freedom of people to trade for mutual benefit. That, to me, is what capitalism means

Their factual contents are essentially identical. A libertarian could say both of them truthfully.

Yet one is about capitalism; the other is about poverty.

That is a critical point to understand.

Read them again if you have to.

The first statement doesn’t start with the perceived injustice: it only connects with people who are already interested in capitalism – or at least care enough to know what that word even means. In other words, it connects only with those who agree with us. It has no political power.

The second statement starts with the perceived injustice. It connects with anyone who cares about poverty, which includes every progressive you’ll ever meet.

And frankly, good for them.

Because we should be concerned first with poverty and only then with capitalism. Why? Because poverty describes the experience of real people. And capitalism, like the liberty that it both serves and manifests, is ultimately valuable, precisely because of the good it does for people – who are the only true and moral ends of political activity.

With that in mind, here’s a sobering thought.

The liberty movement could do much worse than make a video about economic injustice – whose first five and a half minutes is exactly the same as the video made by Sanders. But ours might be voiced by Rand, who would then go into the real causes of this situation, and an explanation of solutions that don’t just treat the symptoms of the disease, but eliminate those causes at root. We’d be changing nothing in our position or our principles – but we’d be talking about people and fairness, rather than philosophy and, say, regulations.

The choice is always the same: to win supporters or to win arguments.

The liberty movement, rather ironically considering what it stands for, is getting exactly what it is choosing.

In the UK, the Left Has Other-ized the Rest

Following the British general election, in which the center-right in the form of the Conservatives and UKIP parties completely outperformed the predictions of every pollster, pundit and media outlet, those same pollsters and pundits are earnestly exercized with trying to understand how they got it all so utterly, consistently and massively wrong.

Two dominant explanations have been offered: first, that the British electorate changed their political preferences in the last couple of days before casting their votes; and second, that people who vote Conservative (by far the largest party in England by representatives in parliament and by popular votes) were too “ashamed” to be honest about their intentions to those who ask.

As a Brit who has maintained a strong interest in British politics, but lives abroad, I am pleased to be able to save these navel-gazing pundits a great deal of time.

Let me start with a thought experiment.

Consider the statement, “Some of my best friends are UKIPpers.”

Now replace UKIP in that sentence with any easily identifiable group in society like “black”, “gays”, “women”, or (for the sake of being politically current,) “Scots”. The statement immediately becomes an unpleasant attempt to proclaim one’s progressive disposition while actually demonstrating its opposite – since the very fact of needing to say such a thing admits a regressive, chauvinistic paradigm from which the speaker feels the need to distance himself (in the spirit of “the lady doth protest too much”.)

But as written, with the word “UKIPpers”, that sentence could be said at almost any dinner party in England (assuming that no UKIP voter is invited, of course,) and would likely get a genuinely curious, “Really?” from well-meaning Labor-voters and Liberals, as the start of a conversation about just how shocking people’s views can be … and how genuinely fascinating it is that humanity can include people who maintain such obviously unjustifiable or misguided views.

In other words, many young, educated, middle-class adults (I am one of those) would respond to the statement “some of my best friends are UKIPpers”, not with the horrified silence that the statement, “some of my best friends are gay” would elicit, but more the wondrous curiosity of a person contemplating an exotic and perhaps somewhat dangerous animal.

Why? Fortunately, as a regular listener to the British media who doesn’t live in Britain, I can easily explain.

Although the United States, my adopted country, gives me most of what I need to be very happy, there are some things from Blighty that I can’t do without, like good tea and Marmite. Chief among them is the BBC, and specifically those great Radio 4 comedies that I often play at the end of a busy day as I wind down to sleep… sketch shows, quiz shows, stand-up shows… Many of them are brilliant. The writing is invariably witty; the comedians are invariably talented; and I am always grateful for (and a little bit proud of) this export from my native land.

But all of these shows – all of them – have something else in common. Whereas they would never, ever make jokes at the expense of any of the groups I identified above (with the occasional exception of the Scots – but watch that change now that they have identified themselves as a victim group), they all play off the unstated but unhidden understanding that the Tories are mean or callous or evil, and UKIPpers are all of those things or perhaps just too stupid to know better.

The same is true of comedy and other entertainment on TV in the UK. Shows that do not purport a political point of view but are written with mass appeal for reasonably educated people nevertheless include politically motivated comedy that always comes from the same overtly Left-wing direction. It’s utterly predictable. I still love the shows, but with a recurrent disappointment that well-meaning, clever and funny writers and performers, whose work both arises from, and determines, Britain’s “cultural normal”, do not even care to understand that what they take for granted is not so obvious to a large part of the culture that thinks differently. And worse, the part of British political culture that our mainstream performers, entertainers and comedians don’t get and can’t write jokes for (rather than against) is actually the majority of British political culture.

Most political tribes sacralize something, and the Left tends to sacralize victim groups. Believing their politics to be the only reasonable political manifestation of inclusiveness and compassion, many self-identified left-wingers look down on Tories and Ukippers for other-izing (treating as essentially “other than themselves”) victim groups, such as welfare recipients and immigrants, respectively (just to pick a couple of examples).

The obvious irony is that in so doing, the British Left, through the mainstream and alternative culture, other-ize those they perceive as guilty of the unconscionable offence of other-izing. Left-wing other-ization always manifests as a kind of condescension – a soft shaming that pervades British popular culture in the form of both jokes and serious accusations that go unremarked, about the meanness of Tory voters and the ignorance of Ukippers etc. They always get a laugh and no one thinks anything of it, even though the very same jokes about gays, blacks, women, foreigners would be utterly anathema.

Just as progressives are quite right to point out the meanness and ignorance on which other-izing always depends, they surely display their own meanness and ignorance when they other-ize those who vote differently or have different ideas about what social and economic justice mean, or what social structures make for a happy society over time.

And before I am accused of other-izing the Left, I should say, with my tongue only half in my check, that “most of my British friends are Labor voters”, and I don’t other-ize them at all. I don’t think worse of them. I don’t assume moral superiority that allows me to lump them altogether and then make jokes about them. I understand that decent people have different views – even if I believe to my very core that those views would be extremely damaging if fully implemented – just as I expect some of those friends think likewise about some of my views. And that is absolutely fine.

So, then, without other-izing, I offer the following just as a cultural observation and a large part of the answer to the question that is currently exercising British political pundits.

A Leftish in-crowd culture pervades the UK, and especially its airwaves.

Here’s another thought experiment: can you name a few mainstream British comedians who take an explicitly Tory, classical liberal or (God forbid), populist UKIP-like perspective from which they make jokes about icons of the modern Left in the same way every Radio 4 comedy or TV quiz show naturally takes pot-shots not just at Cameron and Farage (who are fair game because they chose to seek power) but at entire swathes of the public who support them? Not only can such comedians not be named (because they don’t exist): it’s almost impossible to imagine what their acts would even consist of.

Sure, the News Quiz or Have I Got News For You make jokes at Miliband’s expense, but when did you last hear a put-down of “Labor voters” or “Labor politicians” as a block like the ones you’ve hear repeatedly made at the expense of all Tories or Ukip voters and politicians?

Our mainstream culture not longer allows moral condescension based on sexual orientation, skin color, gender, place of birth etc. But condescension based on political disposition is fair game – if and only if the disposition is perceived to be to the right.

If the post-mortem of the elections is anything to go by, the bulk of both Britain’s media establishment and its providers of alternative culture are so saturated in the soft tyranny of pseudo-intellectual condescension against those they perceive as the other-izers, that they cannot see the self-contradiction inherent in their chauvinistic other-izing millions – literally millions – of people.

I am sure there are mean Tories, but all the ones who I know vote conservative because they believe there is more compassion in a hand up than a hand out if the hand out becomes a destroyer of dignity, aspiration or basic fair play. I am sure there are racist UKIPpers, but all the ones I know vote UKIP because they believe that the EU is undemocratic and that freedom of thought and speech (and therefore the ability to determine one’s own destiny) depend on being able to talk about the causes of social and economic problems without being immediately marginalized because they are talking about a sacralized group or issue.

Sneering at the chauvinism of entire groups of people who differ politically, without knowing their stories and reasons, is chauvinistic. Yet, that particular chauvinism saturates British popular culture – whether represented by Russell Brand’s aggressive populism or by Radio 4’s more decent intellectualism – or anything in between. (Murdoch’s papers are just about the exception that proves the rule.)

In other words, under the banner of “We Know Better Than to Other-ize”, the British Left, has other-ized the Rest.

In 1969, American President Nixon was the first to talk about the silent majority.

In 2015, the UK today has something a little different – a silenced majority.

So the real question is not, “Why were the polls and media wrong?”: it is, “why did you expect them not to be?”.

Answer that question and you’ll really understand British political culture.

Why UKIP? The Answer Is In History – Not Bigotry

Many people regard Magna Carta as the first Constitutional guarantee of the basic liberties of the English-speaking world.

Fewer people know that Magna Carta wasn’t imposed on King John just because he abused his power (which after all has been true of most kings and governments throughout history), but because he had handed away the sovereignty of England to a foreign governing institution in Europe. That institution was The Holy Roman Empire.

John had unilaterally handed England to Pope Innocent because earlier arguments with Rome had left England under an interdict (a kind of nationwide ex-communication), so John was facing the possibility of an invasion from a strong, Catholic France with a papal blessing that would have made finding allies impossible and inevitably led to John’s defeat. To split his enemies, and peel away the Church from France, John gifted the pope sovereignty over his entire country and leased it back as the pope’s vassal. For a time, Britain was ruled from Europe.

For the barons at Runnymede, that was the last straw: they responded to the fundamental transfer of power out of their country and forced Magna Carta on John.

More than 500 years later, the (British) founders of the USA, in the very tradition of which Magna Carta was an early part, would make explicit the intuitive principle on which the Barons had acted then, and many have acted since: that the power to govern is delegated by the people governed, in whom it entirely resides. But that principle is so deep in the Anglo cultural psyche that even the barons who faced King John at Runnymede were not the first to state it in some way or another: the Charter of Liberties of Henry I had already formally established in the year 1100 that the rule of the king was by consent and that those who made the Law were not above it.

By this long-standing principle, power is lent by the people, in whom it resides, for a limited time to those in government for the purpose of protecting the rights of those people. A British prime minster today has not more right to give his country away to a foreign power than King John had to give the country away to a pope, and it makes no difference how the prime minister is chosen. And no king or prime minister has any more right to do either than a tenant of my house has to sell or give my house away just because he is temporarily living in it. Power to govern is no more possessed by those who are allowed temporarily to exercise it, than my house is possessed by the person temporarily allowed to live in it.


The argument today for moving power further away from the people upward to a trans-European super-state is wrong on its face: it rests on the idea that legitimacy follows from the fact that the representatives who gave away that power are democratically elected, as if democratic election gives them something they can never possess, or the right to give away something that can never be theirs.

Since that idea is false, the European Union as currently conceived is anti-democratic and anti-liberal by definition.

Moreover, as has been said many times, since democracy is the exercise of kratos (power) by the demos (people), there can be no democracy without a demos . Britain, France, Spain etc. all have their own demos . Europe does not. Setting up an election and putting lots of people from many countries in one building on fat salaries does not make it so.

A weaker claim to self-justification made EUrophiles is that the “important” decisions in the EU are made by unanimous consent … indeed, they point out, didn’t Prime Minister Cameron recently veto some proposed regulation that would hit London’s financial center?

The response from principle is two-fold. First, the British government retains a veto only in some areas of policy that affects Britons. In the rest, Britain carries a weight of about 8% in the making of decisions, so if the British want control over their waters for the purposes of fishing, for example, even if every single Briton and every single British representative voted in Europe to keep what is theirs by international law and convention, then it would make no difference if most of Europe would rather keep taking it. This is exactly why the demos is important: lack of demos is what turns a situation in which five sheep or five wolves are voting on what to eat for dinner into one in which four wolves and a sheep are taking exactly the same vote.

In this fishing example, if the British had 0% of the decision-making power in the EU, because it was out of it, it could keep 100% of the rights to its waters and its fish. The British people know this, even if many cannot articulate it in those terms: they know they don’t need to be “in Europe” to persuade the European masters with only 8% representation, to stop doing things that hurt them – when the only reason for the discussion in the first place is that their government gave away their national resources and right to properly demo(s)cratic representation.

Evidently, based on the results of elections throughout Europe last weekend, the demos of other nations feels just the same way – as they should.

The drawing of a line at the giving away of governmental power is a very basic, human and healthy self-protective instinct, which has been evident at many more points in history than just 1215. In 1258, for example, the Provisions of Oxford against Henry III, which established parliament, was also a response to the King’s giving away power to a foreign European aristocratic class. Hundreds of years later, the Glorious Revolution would follow the exiling of a king on account of his desire to bring French law and religion to England. And as the normal, healthy act of a real demos , UKIP’s victory in the UK’s European elections is a similar reaction to a similar travesty.

UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, was recently called a bigot on account of his remark about being able to understand people’s discomfort at a group of Bulgarians or Romanians to move in next door, and many have sought to insult his supporters with the same accusation.

I have traveled much of the world and I am convinced Britain is one of the most tolerant nations in it. What Nigel was getting at, albeit clumsily, was that the lack of power of the people to control even who comes into their country is a very serious thing indeed. Bulgarians and Romanians are the current placeholders because they are the latest groups who non-British politicians have determined should be allowed into the British nation, regardless of any consequences for the people who are already there. It is the latest, highly visible symbol of just how completely the kratos of the British demos has been given away.

Britain has welcomed foreigners and diversity for as long as I have been alive. It’s not that Bulgarians and Romanians aren’t welcome there. To use the metaphor of the rented house again, it’s not that the owner doesn’t welcome guests: it’s that basic fairness and common sense demands that the owner should be the one to choose whom he welcomes and on what terms – rather than the current situation in which the person who chooses who enters the house and on what terms is some foreign chap who got hold of it in a fraudulent sale by a recent tenant who never owned it.

With respect to Farage’s notion that Britons might be more concerned about an influx of Bulgarians than of Germans: as history shows, it’s human nature to feel more concerned when the uninvited people in one’s house are less familiar, appearing, rightly or wrongly, to have very different house rules and fewer means to support themselves – especially when the owner is no longer allowed to decide who may or may not take out of the family’s rainy-day fund that has been carefully built up over generations.

In summary, none of this is about ethnicity or race. It is about fairness, rights and their flipside, responsibility .

Kipling said it best.

The Saxon is not like us Normans. His manners are not so polite.

But he never means anything serious till he talks about justice and right.

When he stands like an ox in the furrow, with his sullen set eyes on your own,

And grumbles, “This isn’t fair dealing,” my son, leave the Saxon alone.

Voting UKIP doesn’t make someone a bigot. It makes him human, with a wish to protect his fellow countrymen, what is good in his culture, and what has been earned by a demos at great cost over a long time. A UKIP voter is likely drawing the line exactly where it has always been drawn throughout history: where those who are temporarily delegated power by one demos give away the kratos that is not theirs, to those who are part of another demos altogether.

It’s not bigoted to resist that. It is right. Moreover, in historical time, liberty and democracy both depend on it.

No. A bigot is someone who, as a result of their own prejudices, treats members of a group with fear, distrust or hatred. A much better example of one would be a person who treats those who vote differently from himself as inferior based not on knowledge of them as individuals, or of the reasons why they see their country as they do, but on a simplistic assumption about them made only because of the political party they support – allied, perhaps, with a poor sense of history or, for that matter, democracy.

Those who enjoy irony, or historic parallels, or both, will appreciate the following.

King John, after signing the Magna Carta, immediately appealed to the Pope to annul that pesky referendum on, and limitation of, his power. Pope Innocent gladly obliged; he would have made a good President of the European Union today, refusing to accept any of the national referendums that rejected the European Constitution.

That act of bad faith by John, rejecting the will of his people in favor of the will of his European overlord, caused the barons to revolt, and open war to break out in England …

By that standard, and the standard of most of history, UKIP’s electoral victory seems like a very minor protest indeed.

What UKIP Must Learn from the American Liberty Movement

Of all of their political parties that most Brits have heard of, only UKIP – the United Kingdom Independence Party – calls itself “libertarian”.

Being only two decades old, UKIP – now polling 38% for the European elections this year and about 15% for the general election next year – has achieved a success on paper that the American Libertarian Party can only dream of.

Indeed, in my work of helping the US liberty movement achieve more success in changing the minds of the people and the politicians and policies that they support, I often point out that American activists can learn much from what UKIP has been doing right.

Both UKIP and the US libertarians form insurgent, anti-establishment movements in an early stage of development: they are both influencing and drawing strength from public dissatisfaction with the current political settlement, but have not yet made significant changes to national electoral outcomes. For example, UKIP has not a single seat in the British parliament, and only a handful of representatives in the American House or Senate self-identify as aligned with the liberty movement’s goals.

So it was with some curiosity that I attended my first UKIP meeting on a visit back to England last month.

It was a public “town-hall-style” meeting in the picture-postcard county of Devon. An audience of around 60 heard three candidates and party executives speak for about 90 minutes.

At similar meetings in the US, I am never the youngest in the room. In UKIP’s meeting in Devon, I was. So when questions were invited from the floor, I pointed out as much, and asked if UKIP, therefore, had a problem. (It does.)

Fortunately, one of the speakers was the Chairman of the party, Stephen Crowther, who responded to my question with a fair one of his own: how did someone of my age manage to get out of work on a Friday morning? (I didn’t. I was on holiday.) Later, (during the obligatory tea and biscuits at the end of any public meeting in rural England), another member of the audience offered a different explanation: older people, he suggested, were the only ones who could remember how things were before we joined the EU.

That was sincerely meant but, to me, unconvincing. After all, the younger members of the American liberty movement do not have much experience of their country when it was much freer (before the Patriot Act, NDAA, extensive state-sponsored cronyism corporatism etc.) but they don’t need it: they discover their birthright of liberty by reading their own history, the Constitution, and the work of the brilliant thinkers who developed the classical liberal tradition that excites them so much.

In fact, most of the energy that drives the liberty movement in the US is that of young adults. These men and women are becoming sufficiently numerous and their passion is sufficiently strong that the change toward liberty that we shall see in American politics over the next two generations will likely one day be seen to have had its root in this decade in much the same way that the last two generations of progressivism and Statism were rooted in the ‘60s.

In the US, speeches made at anti-establishment, pro-liberty meetings are filled with statements of the inspiring principles of individual liberty – of free enterprise, the progressive magic of real capitalism, freedom from state interference in (and surveillance of) one’s personal life, personal responsibility and the Rule of Law etc.

In contrast, the speeches in Devon consisted entirely of factual assertions and policy solutions. If it weren’t for Crowther’s utterance of three expressions at the very end of the 90 minutes – “libertarian”, “self-government” and “small government” – it would not have been clear what political principles or vision united all of the policies that had been offered. Moreover, given the lack of any exposition of those ideas as guiding principles, the only people in the room who would have known what those three terms meant were the ones who, like me, had studied them long before they found themselves at a UKIP meeting. Since neither mainstream British politicians nor the British media ever use such terms, the people in the room who knew what they meant could definitely be counted on one hand.

Of course, a political party should focus on facts and policy. But if that is all a new party is doing – especially if the policies are, albeit out of necessity, largely negative, such as pulling out of the EU, reducing immigration, and offering a political home for those who are less than comfortable with gay marriage, then those with the political idealism and energy required to turn an insurgent movement into a mainstream movement with longevity – also called young people – will be left entirely uninspired and, potentially worse, alienated.

During the following week, I spoke to quite a few Brits about UKIP. I found many quiet supporters. Their motivations were typically down-to-earth and British: skepticism of the country’s prevailing political settlement and class, a preference for people who call things as they see them, and a pragmatic desire to try new solutions to problems when the old ones have consistently failed. And there was not a bigot or racist among them.

That’s all well and good – but not enough to prevent UKIP from winning its next battle (the European elections next week) but losing the war (to save the nation’s sovereignty, and with it, a small chance of keeping the astonishing long Anglo tradition of personal liberty and common law).

In contrast, at a meeting in the US of the liberty-curious, at least one of those expressions that the party’s Chairman used at the end of his speech – “libertarian”, “self-government” and “small government” – would be not used once in closing remarks, but repeated many, many times in the exposition of an exciting, positive, restorative vision for the nation. The approach would be to clarify and emphasize the fundamental principles of liberty, and only then discuss specific policies, taking care to show why they coherently pull toward the positive, liberal vision.

Throughout history, political movements that have captured the young – and thereby secured their longevity – have inspired and impassioned, leaving no doubt about the intention to build something bigger and better than exists today.

Positive vision inspires; policies alone do not. To win in the long-run takes both.

Young activists of the American liberty movement gain passion and energy by educating themselves on their own history and their own identity as a nation that is established on liberty and established to protect liberty. In other words, the future of American freedom is not just in the imagination of a few disaffected agitators, but a continuation of a rich, deep, tradition of liberty that has elevated mankind for centuries.

The wheel of freedom does not have to be reinvented, and excited libertarian Americans draw inspiration from the fact that they are heirs to one of its most sublime political realizations. They are not only fighting for liberty: they are fighting for the best of their identity as Americans. When you know you have something wonderful, passed down over generations at great cost, you don’t give it up lightly. Not to the US federal government, and not to the European Union.


If UKIP truly is a libertarian party concerned with British identity, then it is clearly missing its biggest marketing opportunity: the American tradition of freedom IS the British tradition of freedom. To understand it is to be excited by it – to become a patriot in the best (and proper) sense. The ideas of liberty alone change lives and nations. But when they are part of one’s national identity, as they are for English-speakers everywhere, they have the power to move one to tears.

UKIP’s job must be, then, to put young British adults in touch with their classically liberal birthright of the common law, limited government, live-and-let-live, free enterprise, and resistance against the kind of lack of political accountability and authoritarianism that the EU represents, and to teach clearly how the prosperity and freedom we enjoy depend on all of them.

And of most immediate importance for UKIP’s long-term electoral chances, a party of excited, positive, liberal visionaries (which is what true libertarians are) would attract many fewer questionable reactionaries whose views can be too easily labeled racist or sexist etc. by hungry media, than UKIP does today.

Like the USA, the UK is in a potentially radical, teachable political moment. This time of uncommon dissatisfaction with the status quo is equivalently one of heightened interest in alternatives and openness to new perspectives. But it is not yet clear which way Britain will turn, if it will turn at all.

UKIP is currently the biggest party political beneficiary of this zeitgeist in the Britain. If the party doesn’t explain what those words like “libertarian” in its platform mean, how can anyone be blamed for looking at its concentration on immigration or gay marriage and, absent context, doubting that UKIP is libertarian at all? There is a classically liberal case to be made for UKIP’s stance on immigration in the current context of EU rules and the British welfare state, but it’s not an obvious one, and it’s certainly not one that can be worked out from just listening to UKIP’s policy positions. In the absence of the careful exposition of liberal principles and that case, the media will keep painting Ukippers as having questionable motivations because it’s too easy and shifts copy.

Nigel Farage talks about creating an earthquake in British politics. I hope he does. The country’s complacent social democratic establishment needs a reminder of who works for whom, and whatever the ultimate flavor of UKIP’s politics, exit from the EU will do more for British liberty per se than any other single policy currently supported by any party. But an earthquake is a rather short-lived event. What really matters is whether that political earthquake remakes Britain’s political landscape for good – in both senses of that word. And that will depend on whether UKIP really is Britain’s first classical liberal alternative since Thatcher.

If UKIP really is a “libertarian” party (and the jury is very much still out), and wishes to benefit from the inherent popularity of liberty, then it must prove it. It shouldn’t talk about pulling out of Europe without explaining the threat of all big government to liberty; it shouldn’t focus on immigrants without explaining that excessive immigration offends the British sense of fairness chiefly because of a dehumanizing welfare state and the feeling of insecurity that comes from having one’s ability to influence the politics of one’s own society removed by politicians who are foreign to it; it shouldn’t talk about wind farms without explaining the threat to efficiency and prosperity posed by subsidizing any industry at the expense of others, and it should not talk about gay marriage without being very clear that a legal commitment between loving people is not a problem – but an EU court that will use related legislation to force institutions and individuals to act against their consciences and property rights, absolutely is.

Most of all, it shouldn’t talk about any of the above without returning, again and again, to a celebration of a unique legacy of freedom, won over 1,000 years by a people that will continue to build a prosperous and liberal future, when left free to do so by a limited, accountable government that serves at the pleasure of the people – and never, ever, the other way around.