Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

The libertarian case for European integration

Two interesting developments this week have prompted some ponderings…

1) The European Court of Human Rights has ruled the UK police’s stop and search tactics illegal

This creates a serious dilemma for anti-EU libertarians, as shown by the response of anti-EU blogger 13th Spitfire in the (fascinating) comments thread on law blog Charon QC’s coverage of the ruling (via the rather good Jack of Kent). As 13th Spitfire puts it:

Though I sincerely disagree with the Stop and Search laws, it just leaves a very bad taste in the mouth that we have to be told by a foreign court that our domestic proceedings, and by extension our parliament, is illegal.

2) The EU-withdrawalist UK Independence Party has announced that it favours a ban on the burka. This despite UKIP long having portrayed itself as a more or less libertarian party.

Libertarians are a hugely over-represented breed among the political blogosphere. There’s hundreds of them, on both sides of the Atlantic – but in real world politics there’s barely a handful, and they rarely even retain their deposits in elections. They are, however, so vocal on the web that few online political discussions can pass without a libertarian of some stripe cropping up to make their case. As such, libertarian arguments increasinly need to be addressed, even while libertarianism remains decidedly fringe.

The prime unifying belief that they share is that individual liberty is paramount, and that the role of the state should be kept as minimal as feasibly possible. A libertarian, as a rule, opposes bans and restrictions – taking John Stuart Mill’s laudable harm principle as the starting point for pretty much all their approaches to the world, but taking this idea far further than Mill himself (or his fellow small-“L” liberals) ever did.

The libertarian argument against European integration in general – and the European Union specifically – is usually that it implies the imposition of a new layer of government above the national. As libertarians believe small government to be the best form, this is an understandable approach. After all, if you already have a national ministry dealing with policy area X, where’s the need for an additional European-level administration which deals with the same area?

What happens next, however, is that the majority of libertarians seem to take this entirely reasonable argument against the repetition/overlap of governmental/administrative layers, and from it extrapolate that it is the super-national, European-level layer of government/administration which is the unnecessary one.

If the smallest amount of governmental/state interference in the life of the individual – and the maximum level of individual liberty – is the key aim, then surely it is the *national* layer which is superfluous?

If we agree that there are a few basic fundamentals for individual liberty – the right to trial, to vote, to be free from persecution, to free speech, etc. etc. (read Mill and the US declaration of independence for more) – then why, in the case of the EU, have these asserted 27 times in 27 countries, when once should be enough?

If we agree, as most libertarians do, that some laws and regulations are necessary for the smooth functioning of society – agreed systems of weights and measures (to prevent fraud), some level of health and safety guarantees, product standards, environmental/pollution restrictions (all taking Mill’s dictum that as individuals we shouldn’t harm others and applying it to corporations and government bodies), etc. etc. – why have 27 different variants of these laws and regulations, when what’s good for one of us is surely good for all?

This is the fundamental reason why libertarians should be in favour of European integration (note: not necessarily the current nature of European integration or current European bodies, both EU and non-EU, but the general principle) – for an individual in country X to have to abide by different laws than an individual in country Y implies a strong likelihood that the two are experiencing different levels of individual freedom. Plus, most importantly, if individual X goes to country Y, then he/she will have to abide by country Y’s laws – a potential restriction on that individual’s liberty of movement. (Case study: In Germany and Austria, it is illegal to deny the Holocaust; it is not in the UK. When British citizen David Irving went to Austria, having denied the Holocaust, he was arrested and imprisoned.)

Of course, restricting this to a mere continent (and not even all of that) is not ideal. The true libertarian would agree that liberty is universal – for true liberty to exist, what applies to one individual should apply to us all – and therefore we should be pushing for world government, where everyone on the planet has the same rights as everyone else.

But this still doesn’t take away from the fact that if you want small government for maximum individual liberty, the higher the level at which the basic laws and regulations are imposed, the better. Universal is the ideal (hence the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights), but if that proves impossible for now then you surely go for as broad an area as you can? The best part of a continent is not a bad starting point, and is certainly better than a mere individual country. Especially when, as the European Court of Human Rights ruling demonstrates, individual countries cannot be relied upon to safeguard the liberties of their citizens.

I have long stated this to be one of my prime motivations for supporting European integration: the ability of super-national bodies to restrict the power that nation states can hold over the individual. Case in point: if you are British, you have obligations but few rights – we remain, technically, subjects, not citizens. As I have argued before (in some detail), it was only with the introduction of EU citizenship that

“for the first time in Britain’s history, British citizens/subjects have the right to vote, to free movement, and so on, rather than just the privilege – we are no longer dependant upon the whim of parliament.”

And yet still we find self-professed libertarians clinging to the old, liberty-restricting national apparatus, rather than the new, liberty-granting super-national bodies of the EU and Council of Europe. Supposedly state-hating libertarians who cling to the state.

It genuinely baffles me. Can any libertarian provide me with a libertarian case for this apparent nationalism? Because the way I see it, nationalism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive – one being a collective idea focussed around the concept of a geographically and legally-restrictive state, the other focussed around the ideas of individualism and freedom.


  1. Libertarians believe in decentralising power downwards. That means from national governments down to local governments down to private individuals. Reclaiming power from the EU for national governments is just step one.

    If a libertarian government were elected and wished to commence a massive bonfire of laws and regulations, it would be much easier if said government had control over the setting of those laws and regulations. If they were at an EU level they wouldn’t be able to abolish them unless they left the EU – hence why libertarians seem to favour this approach.

    Why you do get what I suppose one could call libertarian imperialists, then general tendency is for libertarians to favour implementing libertarianism in their own territories and allowing other territories to govern themselves how they want. That’s why you’d find few libertarians wanting the EU to enforce libertarianism across Europe. Their view is that it ough to be up to the French, Germans etc. In return they would ask that the EU not impose forms of statism on them. More radical libertarians are all for seccession from a national state if enough people in a particular region desire it. If for example the overwhelming majority of people in Dorset wanted to be free of Westminster control then they would have sympathy from libertarians, as long as the Dorseters didn’t expect handouts or public services from the rest of the UK.

  2. It’s the type of libertarian that you call libertarian imperialists that I just don’t get. The logic of individualism (where that individualism doesn’t harm others) is one that I (to an extent) buy into. But I see no place in a coherent libertarian philosophy for nationality or geopolitical/territorial limitations to the pursuit of individual liberty. Libertarianism is all about striving for greater liberty than has ever existed anywhere – so why be tied by accidents of history or birth? Why restrict people’s ability to achieve this libertarian utopia just because they happen to have been born in another country?

    I of course get the quasi-libertarian argument that if you believe in individual liberty then individuals shouldn’t be forced into something they don’t agree to (an argument I’ve seen used against EU citizenship). But true libertarianism is mostly about breaking away from restrictions – and the restrictions of nationality are among the greatest there are, largely because they are so readily accepted. (A true libertarian, for example, would oppose the vast majority of immigration controls, bar those put in place for security reasons – because to prevent an individual from migrating to a place where he/she has a chance of a higher quality of life would be to greatly restrict their liberty, as well as their ability to pursue happiness. Which is why it always surprises me how many self-professed libertarians are also so anti-immigration.)

    On your first point, I can see the argument – but an extension of the EU’s subsidiarity principle and concept of regions could devolve powers to an even more local level than the national – allowing governance (in those areas where it makes sense) to be brought even closer to the people even more quickly.

  3. I see your point and I mostly agree, specially when you write:

    “I have long stated this to be one of my prime motivations for supporting European integration: the ability of super-national bodies to restrict the power that nation states can hold over the individual.”

    Indeed national governments are not ready, but it also remains to be seen if individuals are ready to let their States lose sovereignty.
    BTW, I love reading your posts. Regards from Spain.

  4. Clive,

    “If the smallest amount of governmental/state interference in the life of the individual – and the maximum level of individual liberty – is the key aim, then surely it is the *national* layer which is superfluous?”

    Well, it’s a little more complicated than this, isn’t it?

    In a truly libertarian ideology, all government is not only superfluous but actively harmful. The only person who should have supremacy over an individual is… the individual.

    However, back in the real world, government should be as close to the people that it represents as possible. Obviously, a supraational government such as the EU is more removed from the people it claims to represent than the national governments, which are further removed than the local goverments, etc. etc.

    OK, but why are so removed governments a bad thing? Basically, it comes down to the number of said people that they represent.

    If one person has sovereignty over themselves, no one can tell them what to do. However, if a local government rules, say, 200 people then they only have to co-ordinate 200 separate points of view and their legislation can be suitably triangulated.

    If a government rules 30,000 people then their response much be triangulated between 30,000 wants and aspirations—indeed, of that 30,000, many people’s needs will never be heard.

    At an administration size of 60,000,000, almost nothing will be heard. And at 450,000,000 the government ceases to even pretend to hear.

    Is that reasonable?


  5. A counterpoint, before DK get’s here to make it himself;

    If we agree, as most libertarians do, that some laws and regulations are necessary for the smooth functioning of society – agreed systems of weights and measures

    Why should each shop be bound by a standardised set of weights and measures? If I run a cheese shop, why can’t I sell my cheese in multiples of X, where X is the weight of anything I feel like, including a great big stone?

    If I choose to sell my Wensleydale at £2 per Quorg, as long as I clearly define a Quorg, it’s up to my customers as to whether they’re happy with me doing this or whether they want to go to Tesco where everything is sold in kilos, surely?

    It is likely that customers will prefer a standard system (if I’m cooking something that needs 5oz of cheese, then I need to buy 5oz of cheese), and thus market pressure will make me want to standardise, but why should the Govt regulate? When competition made BluRay the HD DVD standard, was that Govt intervention? It was customers jumping one way and corporations following–the Blu Ray group has requirements and standards, but they’re set privately.

    I recall Sony got in trouble over their Rootkit installing ‘CDs’ that weren’t actually CDs as they broke the standard. Web coding standards are being enforced by competetive pressure, even M$ is trying to make their browsers work properly today, again, no Govt regulations required.

    Heh, as it happens, I broadly agree with you, but think weights and measures is a bad example, I’m very happy with competing measurement systems, and if a firm labels something as being X kilos and it isn’t, that’s misselling and a breach of contract. My memorised recipes are a mix of imperial or metric depending on what I’m cooking and why, it matters not as long as everyone knows what an ounce or a kilo is.

  6. DK – it’s eminently sensible, and I agree with you to a great extent.

    However, while agreeing that government should be as close to the individual as possible (and – to an extent – that the further removed governmental decisions are taken from the people, the worse they are likely to be), I can also see a number of areas where it is necessary to legislate/regulate at a much higher level than the local.

    Key case in point: Product standards. It’s far better to have a unified standard over as wide a level as possible to a) prevent people from being ripped off, and b) prevent businesses wishing to trade outside their local area from having to produce products to lots of different standards. This is an offshoot of the old medieval obsession with fair weights and measures (one of the first areas in which national governmental systems came into place, so ensure fair trading in the markets – an offshoot of which was unified and regulated national currencies).

    Something like product standards is far better regulated at as high a level as possible, and over as wide an area as possible, to maximise the economic benefit to society as a whole. The libertarian case for this? Individuals are far better served by an efficient economy with minimal waste. This is something that local-level government cannot provide, and that national governments can only provide over a limited geopolitical area. Just as a national-level system of product standards is more efficient than a local-level one, so a continent-level system is more efficient than a national one.

    And in any case, as noted above, the EU’s subsidiarity principle can easily be interpreted as saying that decisions should be taken as close to the people as possible. If taken to its logical conclusion, subsidiarity would lead to a highly localised EU, with only those areas of governance that make sense to be decided at a high level decided in Brussels. As it stands the EU’s hands are currently effectively tied, as the lowest level to which it can currently devolve power is the national (thanks to the governments of the member states clinging on to all the power they can through the Council of the EU and European Council). But there’s no reason that this couldn’t change in the future, given enough support for the idea.

    MatGB – on the reason *why* standard weights and measures (or product standards, as the example I use above) are desirable: There’s no reason why a shopkeeper shouldn’t use a random stone as the base unit of measurement for his transactions. Hell, there’s no reason he can’t use a standardised system of weights and measures and charge a lot more (or less) than his neighbouring shopkeeper, as long as his customers are willing to pay for it.

    However, without a standardised system of weights and measures (or product standards) of some description, his customers are being denied the ability to make an informed choice about their purchases. Your example of Imperial vs metric doesn’t work on these grounds – because both are agreed standards, and you understand them. As you say “it matters not as long as everyone knows what an ounce or a kilo is” – but what happens in an entirely unregulated system, where shopkeeper x uses a random stone to weigh his product, shopkeeper y uses his pet dog, and shopkeeper z uses an old tree branch? How can their potential customers make valid comparisons between the three in the same way that you can do a (relatively) simple calculation to convert kilograms to ounces?

    If the fundamental point of libertarian individualism is that we shouldn’t harm others, then I’d argue that using obscure systems of weights and measures, or unregulated product standards, fails this test. It counts as harming others, by depriving them of their hard-earned money by at best obfuscation, at worst deliberate deception.

    Case in point: The classic cowboy builders and dodgy mechanics who ramp up their bills by using complicated jargon designed to mislead anyone who doesn’t know their own made-up mumbo-jumbo. In an unregulated society, there would be nothing to prevent people like this from ripping off my octogenarian grandmother.

    To which the standard libertarian response would usually be something like “yes, but fraud would still be illegal” or, as you use above, “it would be breach of contract”. To which the response is simple: How can the body charged with identifying and prosecuting fraud/breach of contract determine where a fraud/contract breach has taken place without agreed definitions?

  7. “The libertarian case for this? Individuals are far better served by an efficient economy with minimal waste.”

    Depends whether you’re the sort of libertarian who values property rights above economic efficiency. If you had an economy based upon strict private property rights it would probably be a lot more decentralised and very different from the “Tesco minus the state” vision that most libertarians seem to have.

  8. Richard – but if you value property rights, surely that’s even more of an incentive to have regulations to prevent unscrupulous traders from ripping you off?

  9. One other point against large political bodies with centralised legislation:

    I prefer a concurrency between states to drive their costs and imperinence down. Larger states are more like monopolies on the market.

  10. @MatGB

    How would you clearly define how much a Quorg is in such a way that customers could trust that they’re getting what they’re paying for? You would need some sort of.. reference, am I right? If you say a Quorg is the weight of an unborn unicorn your customers can’t trust you, but if you define it as 0.726 Kg, they know how much that is because there exists a standardised system of measurements to which they can compare yours. This isn’t so much an argument for the imposition of this system on you; you can sell by the Quorg if you want, but you should be forced to provide equivalents in a standardised system.

    As for the state vs federal (or “national vs European” as most people here are more familiar or comfortable with) debate with regards to libertarianism: That’s not what matters. We can debate pros and cons of federalism in Europe in various contexts, but it always comes down to one thing: Who are you, and where do you belong, where are you from? Federalists will say “I’m European, I’m from Europe” while anti-federalists will say “I’m from France/Poland/Croatia/etc”. A European libertarian will want to limit the states’ power in Europe (including a federal state, but he would not want to abolish it completely), but a British libertarian will not concern himself with the running of things outside of Britain. A true libertarian would not care if it was Britain at all; if he believed in “close” government, he would support the break-up of Britain into smaller pieces to be governed independently, as close to the people as possible. But most self-proclaimed libertarians are not “true” libertarians, they’re also conservatives and in some cases nationalists.

    Anti-federalists are scared to death that “the Nations of Europe” will be split into smaller states, assembled into the Union with a federal government. True libertarians would welcome this, but if you ask the vast majority of them their views are still tainted by nationalism (I’m not bashing nationalism as a political force here, I can understand the reasoning behind it; or rather the reasoning behind taking it into account) and their comfort in and need for the status quo.

  11. Just curious. Where does libertarianism end and anarchism begin? Feels like a very fuzzy distinction sometimes.

  12. @Insideur AFAIK the difference is “no state” vs “minimal state”. For example, a libertarian would agree that a police force controlled by the state (and by extension the people) is needed to protect each individual’s rights from intrusion by others. Anarchism is pretty much “every man for himself”.

  13. Also, the word libertarian seems to be an American invention because they changed the meaning of liberal. Libertarianism can be defined as “old school” or “true” liberalism.

  14. Libertarians belong to the liberal ideology (this is why libertarianism is interchangable with the word neoliberalism). At the core of the ideology, liberals want to remove and reduce the world’s anarchy. This means setting up institutions to introduce order upon society. Why? Because its helluva lot better to talk and trade instead to wage warfare and plunder one another.

    However, where social liberals and libertarians differ is the point where social liberals believe that institutions can do good and provide positive things to the individual and society (health care, education, etc), while libertarians believe only negative things can come out of this (repression, unwanted things like taxes). Thus social liberals can believe in a welfare system, while libertarians can believe in reducing the government down into a night-watcher state.

    The European Union is *the* prime example of liberal policies in action. Yes, while it’s obviously not perfectly aligned within libertarian values, the EU as a whole is not perfectly aligned with any particular ideology – even social liberalism (CAP anyone?).

  15. Federalismus: Re libertarians being ‘true’ liberals, I disagree, they’re, for the most part, a branch of liberalism, but there are some ideological extremists within their ranks (not DK but he knows of them) who take things a bit seriously and are convinced they’re right, in all circumstances, regardless of evidence, which goes against the basic long held liberal principle against ideological certainties.

    When pressed, I tend to describe myself as a Millian liberal, then point out his beliefs in a competetive market socialism, which confuses everyone. Well, except mutualists, who’re basically the same thing.

    Anyway, it’s not up to me to mandate how a shop defines their weights. It’s up to the shop and their customers. If the customers aren’t happy with the definition, they can go to a different shop. If the store chooses to sell by an agreed standard, then they should do so, but the standards ned not be government enforced, just as other industry standards, like SCART, CD, Cask Marque, Oganic and Fairtrade rules, etc.

    Organic standards are a good one, there are multiple competing standards of ‘organic’, and while they’re beginning to standardise, that’s due to consumer pressure.

    Meh, sorry, derailed the thread. TBH, I don’t actually care, and am happy with metric and imperial as competing standards, I just don’t think the Govt has any need to get involved outside of stores breaking the standard.

    On the wider point, I want as many decisions as possible decided at as local a level as possible, but I want any decision I can’t choose a competing option to decided democratically.

    If we must have standardised curencies (I can see the argument against), then I want the currency under the control of someone answerable to me, not to corporate interests.

    @DK, I concur, for the most part, with the belief that a Govt of 400million is going to care less about me as an individual than a Govt for 30,000. Which is why I want to strengthen the Parliament as much as is possible, especially by replacing the godawful closed list system, preferably with STV which allows genuine choice between candidates.

    I know for a fact MEPs will listen to you if you lobby them effectively, especially true if you’re involved in their party in their area, they need your support for both reselection and then campaigning for election.

    But I only want to strengthen the Parliament within the EU, not give the EU more powers than is necessary. I feel we benefit from having a large organisation to negotiate trade rules (I’d rather complete free trade, but until we’ve got that), especially when that organisation can turn around to recalcitrant members, like Italy, and tell them they’ve got to accept imports. We both understand the stupidity of blocking imports that make your citizens richer, but…

    Define the limited areas of EU competence, make the Commission answerable to both PArliament and the Council equally, and devolve the rest back down.

    Same applies with Westminster, I want my borough council to control 80%+ of its budget, not less than 25% as now.

  16. @MatGB I agree with you re: standards in general, but I don’t think all standards are efficiently decided by market forces (Betamax vs VHS is often used as an example of this, but I don’t know how true that is). I agree that something like DVB-T, which was recently standardised across the EU, should be left to the market, but something as important and fundamental as weights and measurements should be mandated by the state. By mandated I don’t mean that shops are forced to use it, but that there exists a canonical system which acts as a reference. All in all, I think it’s probably a good thing that DVB-T was standardised the way it was, because no doubt individual states would’ve standardised, mandating the market instead of letting it choose for itself, probably more than one standard.

    Regarding your reply to DK about big government; One of your points is one of the more pragmatic (as opposed to principal) reasons I support (more) federalism in Europe: I don’t trust national governments at all. They do stupid things all the time, and I don’t trust them for a second to preserve (and expand) my rights as a European citizen and individual. Imagine a Europe with no federal forces, no supranational government: We’d have Sarkozys and Berlusconis running all over the place implementing draconic, anti-market and protectionist laws, printing money like crazy and generally making an ass of themselves while making our lives worse in the process.

  17. Nosemonkey,

    Is the EU a libertarian construct then ?

  18. Robin – No, it’s a liberal construct.

    Most of its big problems (bar those caused by the governments of the member states) stem from the inability of the economic liberals and social liberals can’t agree which particular form of liberalism should be paramount.

  19. Nosemonkey,

    I presume you mean it`s a left/liberal construct of the type favoured by the BBC, which is why it wont be liked by anyone libertarian or those who dislike governments and bureacracy.
    There is already the UN, and standards are reached worldwide by the ISO in Geneva . It may be good for some other countries to come together for this project, but again there is no need for Britian to enmesh itself .There may be the odd EU law in our favour or ECJ ruling, but as a whole, mainly due to our civil service, we should be involved in as few international bodies as possible.

    {As an aside, due to the destruction of our international haulge industry, there have been more sideswipes by foreign lorries in the UK . To counteract this, our Transport ministry has been giving away – FREE- to left hand drive trucks entering the UK, a Fresnel lens to affix to their windows. The mandarins have thought this has been a success, so in their missive to domestic hauliers, they urge them to BUY these lenses. No EU regulation on this, but as usual, trace all the leads and – its our unsuitability to being in the EU }

  20. Robin – in which case you presume wrong.

    I specifically and deliberately said the division in the EU is between “right-wing” *economic* liberals (these days often termed neo-liberals) and (usually but by no means always) “left-wing” *social* liberals.

    The EU is liberal in both senses of the word – both economic *and* social, sometimes leaning more towards one than the other in certain areas, but mostly trying desperately to maintain some kind of harmony between the two. Sadly, the two branches of liberalism often prove hard to combine in the real world, despite working quite happily together in theory.

    In other words if you presume “liberal” to mean “left”, then you are mistaken about the word’s meaning – I know *plenty* of liberal right-wingers. Just as you are mistaken if you presume “libertarian” to mean “right” – I know several libertarian left-wingers. (Just because right-wingers in the US use “liberal” as short-hand for “left” in doesn’t mean that’s the true definition of the word. Hell, they call trousers “pants”…)

    As to your utterly illogical civil service obsession, I give up… And I’m afraid I don’t want this to go off topic, so would kindly ask that you confine yourself to the subject under discussion. Thanks.

  21. Nosemonkey, has anyone yet addressed your point that EU subsidiarity means that government should be as close to the people as possible yet? Sounds pretty libertarian to me. Of course, this principle fits into the “Good in theory” umbrella.

    {Aside: Earth’s tagline in the Hithchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is ‘Mostly harmless’, so surely the EU’s should be ‘Good in theory’?]

    I guess the question is about turning theory into pracrice – i.e., how to actually get subsidiarity implemented when each level of government doesn’t really care about anything other than keeping/grabbing as much power as possible?

    It wasn’t national European governments, working alone, that allowed for the massive liberalisation of national monopolies in everything from telephony to energy across Europe, creating considerably more freedom (of choice) for consumers.

  22. Nosemonkey,

    As in the pants/trousers this could also be how words change their meaning over time.The EU though, does not make for small government or easy accountability. So I would think anyone of the Libertarian mould (as in the Libertarian Party ) would not be enamoured with it.

    As for the aside I put in, I thought you liked to see how government works and its effects, but Ok strike it out.

  23. Does the current EU lead to smaller government? The case can be made that in fact yes it does. But I’m very explicitly talking about the general idea of European integration more generally, not the EU itself. Hence writing “not necessarily the current nature of European integration or current European bodies, both EU and non-EU, but the general principle”.

    It’s very hard to have a discussion if you read what you expect to read rather than what’s actually written. Likewise on the use of words – I know of a number of left-wingers who use “libertarian” as short-hand for “crazy right-wing maniacs”. That doesn’t mean that this is what libertarians are, any more than the us right using “liberal” as short-hand for “dangerous lefty bastards” has changed *its* meaning.

  24. UKIP come second in PR elections in Britain, as evidenced by the EP elections. Labour third and Lib Dem fourth. If there was PR at Westminster, UKIP would rival the Conservatives, and between them hold the balance of pwer. Your sums are wrong.

  25. Tapestry – beg pardon? Not sure how that’s relevant…

  26. Tapestry, you’re ffactually wrong. In EU elections, turnout is significantly lower than at General Elections, in the same way as it is for local elections. In my area, my preferred party hold most of the local council seats, the Tories the rest, Labour is nowhere. But the MP is Labour, turnout goes up at a GE (a lot), and proportionately more of those that turnout are voting for national parties.

    You’re right to say that UKIP would poll more, especially in rural areas, if a preferential or proportional system were used, but reputable studies and polling shows that virtually everyone who cares enough about wanting us out to vote UKIP generally turns out to vote in EU elections. Most of the rest of us simply don’t care.

    A preferential voting system is also likely to increase turnout in currently safe seats to much closer to the national average, thus further denting UKIP’s vote share.

    They’ll gain, but the psephology is against you on the “they’ll come second” idea, outside of an EU election.

  27. NM,

    Sorry, should have come back earlier but this… [with emphasis added]

    “I can also see a number of areas where it is necessary to legislate/regulate at a much higher level than the local.”

    … does not lead to this…

    “Key case in point: Product standards. It’s far better to have a unified standard…

    “Desirable” is not the same as “necessary”. At all. In any way.

    Yes, it might well be desirable to legislate at high level for product standards (although I think I could probably argue against that too), but it is not necessary.

    “Something like product standards is far better regulated at as high a level as possible, and over as wide an area as possible, to maximise the economic benefit to society as a whole. The libertarian case for this? Individuals are far better served by an efficient economy with minimal waste.”

    No, no, no, NM. Libertarian does not equate to efficient, not by a long chalk. Libertarianism is an ideology that maximises personal freedom over and above anything else—including efficiency.

    If we all wanted maximum efficiency, then we’d be going for a nice, efficient military dictatorship, not this messy, inefficient democracy thing.

    Libertarianism is not about economic utility—never has been, never will be. Most of us support free-market capitalism because it maximises choice for the individual, not because it is the most efficient economic system.


  28. NM,


    “If the fundamental point of libertarian individualism is that we shouldn’t harm others…”

    It. Is. Not.

    The “fundamental point” is the non-aggression axiom which maintains that you shall not “initiate force or fraud against someone’s life, liberty or property”.

    Note that the axiom is very specific about the actions that you cannot undertake, i.e. force or fraud. It does not state that you should not “harm” others for the very simple reason that defining harm is a rather difficult thing, e.g. if I take drugs, I might harm my parents because they worry about my health.

    “… then I’d argue that using obscure systems of weights and measures, or unregulated product standards, fails this test.”

    You might argue that such a system is bad because it makes defrauding people easier. However, only an individual can choose to defraud others; and those others can choose to bring him to justice or they can choose not to buy his wares, etc.

    The fact that some people might choose to defraud people is never a justification for punishing those who have done no wrong. Ever.

    Seriously, NM, I think that you need to understand a little bit more about libertarianism—your arguments here are tremendously muddled.


  29. Sorry, I didn’t realise that Mill’s precise wording had turned into some kind of libertarian dogma…

    But seriously – “only an individual can choose to defraud others”? So even though you admit that fraud is something that should not be done, this *still* shouldn’t be regulated?

    And “bring him to justice”? Fine – who’s going to maintain that justice? Who’s going to determine what constitutes a fraud in this almost entirely unregulated free-for-all? You’s have lawsuits every five minutes. You’d replace a large state with an immense justice system, no doubt packed with constant appeals (because hey, you can’t restrict an individual’s right to maintin their innocence, right? And imprisonment would fall under the “force” category anyway.)

    Come on, you know as well as I do that once trade between individuals reached a remotely sophisticated level, everyone began to agree that some kind of regulated and enforcable system of standards was necessary, be it through proper coinage, standard weights and measures, or whatever. It’s been a constant in pretty much every human society around the globe, because it’s one of the fundamentals.

    Now you could argue that this doesn’t need to be regulated by a governmental structure, that the old medieval guilds worked fine, and that the market itself would form it own regulations to keep dodgy traders in check. But to argue it’s not necessary at all? Seriously?

    If so, I genuinely don’t see how anyone could believe that a libertarian society could actually function. Your vision of a libertarian society sounds more like Hobbes’ state of nature than anything Mill ever came up with.

    And you haven’t responded to my main question – why so much overlap between libertarianism and nationalism/patriotism?

  30. Nosemonkey,

    I`ve printed your article to peruse as I post to hpoefully not misunderstand.

    Firstly though we get this from you ;

    “Libertarians are a hugely over-represented breed among the political blogosphere”
    yet later you infer that they are not so different to social liberals and economic liberals who construct this EU project.
    Which implies that Libertarians are constructing a project that is not wholeheartedly supported by the great mass of the people .
    Naturally I dont presume you mean this .

    Then there is this “why have this asserted in 27 countries, when one should be enough?”
    Why not “assert” it in 127 countries ? Why not assert it here and expect it to hold true in North Korea ?
    Because that is 27 different independent countries (or is it Nosemonkey?) and what is good for one is not always accepted by another.
    As for the national layer being superfluous, why would it be more so than the continental layer ? Why would the rule from your fellow nationals be worse than from foreigners who inhabit a continental shelf that your island is near ?
    Again later you write about rules and regulations for 27 countreis ,as though 27 is a magic number. Why not rules and regulations for whichever countries want to sign up for them ?
    And we dont need an EU for that . We already have the UN and ISO in Geneva .The EU seeme superfluos.
    Later of course you advocate world government, and note the practicalities of where to start . But why again for a continental one, especialy for the UK which has the global Commonwealth as a good foundation ?
    As for the failings of our state/ nation, it can only be remedied by politicos as yourself demanding the rectification of our liberties, not subjugating us all into this dubious project.

  31. 1. You seem to have shot yourself in the foot with point one. The ECHR is not an EU document and the The European Court of Human Rights is not and EU document. They are both products of the Council of Europe. This chap explains it all rather well:

    2. UKIP’s stance on the Burka is illiberal, and in my opinion wrong. This is definitely a case of them being ‘less libertarian’. However that policy and their anti-EU policies are not dependant on each other.

    DK covers the point about which level of government to get reduce very well, all of them! Getting power back into the hands of individuals means getting it out of the hands of both the EU and central government. In those areas where some kind of collective respose is needed then it should be at the closest level to the individual as possible so that they maintain as much influance as possible. This could be in a voluntary group, local government, for a small number of things central government, or maybe for a very small number of things a supranational body.

    The Council of Europe for example provides a good check on central government, but I cannot really think of much else that needs to be taken to the supranational level. Maybe some cross border enviormental issues, but certainly deciding whether you can make jam from carrots does not belong there!

  32. Robin – your first point is based on false logic. Just because libertarians are a variant of social/economic liberals and the EU has been built by social/economic liberals does not mean that the EU was built by libertarians.

    The whole point about 27 countries I’ve dealt with in the original post. You acknowledge that I say global government would be the ideal, but the larger the area covered by a single set of rules the better, so I’m not sure what your point is?

    On your final point, I have no idea what you’re talking about. Since when have I been a politico? And since when have I had anything to do with “subjugating” anyone under the EU? I wasn’t even born when the UK’s referendum on EEC membership took place – I’ve never had any say in our membership whatsoever.

    chris – I know the ECHR isn’t anything to do with the EU (hell – I’m the guy you link to to explain the difference). This post is about european integration in general, though, not just EU integration.

    On the UKIP point, the proposed ban on the burka (not to mention their increasingly hardline stance on immigration) is a strong indication that they are not in any sense a libertarian party. Being anti-EU and anti-immigration is fine – not something I agree with, but to each their own. The only thing I’m confused about is how any self-professed libertarian could support UKIP – and there are a fair few who do. That then leads on to the broader argument in favour of european integration from a libertarian standpoint.

    On DK’s point, I’m all for small government, and at heart I’m pretty much a localist (albeit with a bit of internationalism chucked on top, semi-paradoxically) – I agree entirely that decisions should be taken as close to the people as possible in most cases. This is why I’m a big fan of the EU’s subsidiarity principle, and believe it should be extended as far as is possible.

    As to why regulations about jam (etc.) are better taken at as high a level as possible, please see this recent post. You can, of course, argue that such regulations are entirely unnecessary – that would be a strong libertarian/free market stance to take. But as long as such regulations *are* deemed necessary (as they are in pretty much all developed nations that I can think of), it’s surely better to have *one* universal set for everyone to comply with rather than dozens of slightly different ones. Not necessarily strictly libertarian, but far less confusing, far more efficient, and far less expensive.

  33. Of course I know you wrote that article, that is why I chose it!

    Yes, personally I do believe that the free market could sort out problems like this (and weights and measures) without outside intervention. The UK did with quite a lot of things like this before we joined the EU which are now regulated because we joined the EU. If there really is a need for a regulation then it makes sense for co-ordination amongst the areas that need it. But that is not what the EU does, it forces everybody to have the same regulation even if they see no need for regulation in the first place. The EU may pay lip service to subsidiarity, but it is rarely more than that.

    What you put into jam is a good example. Another example is the motorcycle test. The EU has stipulated that the test must include certain things (a swerve test, and an emergency stop) at 50 km/h. However that means that they cannot be done on the normal roads in the UK and so have to be done on special test areas rather than on the actual roads where they might be needed. Since we are part of the EU we could not say: “Actually 30 mph works better for us.” We have to have 50 km/h making the test less suitable for the road conditions of this country because it has been mandated by the EU. This is not subsidiarily, it is the exact opposite.

  34. Nosemonkey,

    I think you are misreading my post and there is a misunderstanding perhaps because I`ve used the wrong terminology, for which I apologise.
    Firstly I never said or implied you were personally subjugating any rights and secondly I thought Politicos were people who were politically minded or who had influence in political affairs.Sorry if this is wrong.

  35. States acting in the EU made it possible for people to go where they like in the EU with a minimum of formalities, work where they like and move their money where they like. No single European Government acting on its own would have allowed pensioners to retire abroad and take their pensions with them. The same goes for going abroad for medical treatment and getting it reimbursed from the national health insurance scheme. This may not be libertarianism, but it’s a lot better than the Europe of the 60’s, for instance, with the £50 allowance for spending on holiday.

  36. chris strange, regarding your comment “Since we are part of the EU we could not say: “Actually 30 mph works better for us.”” is a prime example of the FAILURE of Britain in involving itself in the legislative process. Passing a law on the EU level takes forever – up to several years. There are multiple instances and steps in the process where UK interests and representatives have the chance to voice their opinion on new legislation.

    Blame British lobbyists and your elected officials for being lame and not active enough to represent your interests in Brussels. Don’t blame the EU.

  37. I was using the mess that the EU made of the motorcycle test as an example of how the EU does not practice Subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. Now, the motorcycle test was working perfectly at the national level. According to the principal of Subsidiarity that is were it should be decided, unless a less centralised authority could be found. It should therefore not be decided by the EU at all, we should not have needed lobbiests to argue for special national exemptions from EU regulations. The fact that a national exemption is needed in the first place is a sign that the descision should not be being taken at that layer of government. It is a problem with the EU because it was the EU demanding to take over a working system, and then breaking it, when there was no need for it to take it over in the first place.

    Ignoring Subsidiarity would be bad in itself, but there is also the prinicple of the occupied field which has been erroding the areas that lower levels of government can operate. The flow of power is towards the centre, and away from the citizen. Anybody that wants power weilded as close to individual as possible, as Libertarians do, should therefore not support the EU, the way most Libertarians don’t.

  38. chris – But surely safe driving is safe driving whether you’re in Slovakia or Scotland? Why would libertarians, who favour small government, be in favour of the needless replication of government departments dealing with road safety across 27 different countries, all with subtle variations in the rules and regulations?

    The point of legislating at an EU level for driving/motorbike licenses is to ensure that the people of Europe can freely travel throughout the EU in the confidence that all other road users are trained to the same standard. This again conforms to Mill’s harm principle – because a) poor driving is one of the biggest killers going, and b) any lack of harmonisation in driving license standards might restrict an individual’s freedom to travel.

    There is, of course, a strong argument that this shouldn’t have applied to the UK as we 1) drive on the left, 2) use miles per hour not kilometers, and 3) are not part of the Schengen Zone. But – as pointed out above – those are all arguments for the UK to have pushed for an opt-out from this particular part of the EU, not against the basic principle.

  39. Oh, and also wanting power close to the people is not, in fact, a particular hallmark of libertarianism – it’s localism.

    Perhaps the UK Libertarian Party should rename itself the UK Localist Party, DK?

  40. The point is that the EU does not practice subsidiarity. There is a one size fits all assumption which ignores that sometimes it might not be best to do things at the EU level. If the EU cared about subsidiarity then we would not need to opt out, we would need to opt in to those things that makes sense to do at EU level. However the EU does not care about subsidiarity, you do need to opt out, because the default action of the EU is to centralise everything into itself whether it makes sense or not. The motorbike licence is simply one manifestation of that (also having people learn their emergency manourvers on a safe and controlled test track rather than actual roads where they will be used makes driving less safe).

    Subsidiarity is necessacry to be libertarian, but it is not sufficient. Libertarians want as much as possible decided by the individual, as well as having those few descisions that really do need to be made collectively made as close to the individual as possible.

    The EU fails the test of deciding things as close to the individual as possible, because its one size fits all nature will by default try to suck power upwards to its own remote level. It also fails the test of keeping as much power exercised by the individual as possible by the way it regularly seeks to regulate on areas do not need to be regulated. If two people decide amongst themselves to make a deal for rope measured fathoms, and another pair want to deal in millimeters what business is it of the state to interfere? So long as everybody involved understood their deal then it is nobody else’s business.

    Likewise if the population one country decides that some petty rule is needed there and another decides it is not, then why should one care about what goes on in the other? Wanting a small government is not about wanting a small government in the abstrate when the total length of the tax codes of all governments is calculated across the entire globe. It about wanting the maximum freedom for each individual, whilst also being safe from coercion by force of fraud.

  41. Chris, the problem with your argument (and it’s one I broadly agree with), is that we did opt in.

    Or, at least, a minister attended the Council of Ministers and approved that specific bit of legislation on our behalf. In secret, of course, behind closed doors. The EU does in theory practice subsidiarity, but because of the secretive nature of decision making, frequently ministers agree to stuff in the Council that they know they could never pass domestically.

    Of course, under Lisbon, meetings have to be in the open, and scrutiny powers for both the EU and national parliaments are increased.

    This, theoretically, should lead to an improvement. The problem is, of course, that it’ll be harder to see, as the amount of crap is likely to be reduced before proposal stage as they’ll know what can’t be agreed to publicly, etc.

    The reason a lot of people care about if a small country wants a silly rule is fairly straightforward; trade.

    When I worked for a major UK exporter, they were effectively forced to follow the strictest rules for their products across the area they were trading in, and due to scale concerns, these strict restrictions were applied even in UK domestic market products, they couldn’t afford to make two different versions.

    A single market rule means that if it’s legal in one country it’s legal in all, thus decreasing business costs, but at the expense of subsidiarity.

    The free trader in me wars with the localist on that one, but TBH, the bit of me that liked that job and wants to see the company continue to do well tends to win…

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  43. An excellent post, thanks. I’ve wondered about this mysterious overlap between libertarianism and flag-waving nationalism myself. The conclusion I’ve tentatively arrived at is that a large proportion of self-professed libertarians are full of shite.

    This may not sound like a constructive contribution to the discussion, but I do think it’s an important observation of the blogosphere. Banning the burka, general hanging and flogging, incarceration without trial, the Swiss minaret ban, torture, phone-tapping – I’ll find you any number of ‘libertarians’ who support a whole raft of policies which are fundamentally opposed to any sane interpretation of libertarianism.

    Basically the word “libertarian”, which properly applies to an eccentric and minority fundamentalism, has been co-opted by your bog-standard right-wing headbanger.

    What’s surprising is that the few genuine libertarians don’t seem to mind – or even have noticed. I guess anything to bolster their numbers. And perhaps they sing from the same page often enough to make it worthwhile…

  44. “Because the way I see it, nationalism and libertarianism are mutually exclusive – one being a collective idea focussed around the concept of a geographically and legally-restrictive state, the other focussed around the ideas of individualism and freedom”

    Don’t know what to make of that. As a Cornish nationalist I wish to see power devolved to a Cornish layer of government as well as full recognition of Cornwall’s national identity, but equally I’m an ardent supporter of federalism on a European and, yes, global scale.

    I also have nothing against freedom and individualism. Quite the contrary.

  45. Philip–yours is a sane kind of nationalism, a type that probably needs to find a different word to differentiate itself from the “stop the world” kind that wants to look to one, and only one, nation–scratch the surface of UKIP and, while some members are sane, rational internationalists, others are frothing lunatics who are convinced of various things, including the primacy of the UK, and the absolute need to, for example, support the Orange ascendency in Northern Ireland (in order to maintain the UK).

    UKIP has a libertarian wing (that DK used to be part of), but it also has rapid xenophobes who will both refuse to recognise Cornish nationhood but refuse to accept more than one tier of Govt, which has to be Westminster.

    Meh. My only real problem with Cornish nationalism, as a Devon lad of Dumnonian stock, is the way Devon gets ignored–what about, for example, the 4 Devon stannary towns? We had to put up with English occupation for centuries, doesn’t mean we aren’t closely linked ;-)

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