The Right Mind Essay 2 – Michael Way [Students for Liberty]

Burke’s Right Minds is a project exploring and promoting viewpoints within the conservative intellectual sphere, jointly run by The Burkean and the Edmund Burke Institute

I am a Libertarian.

First, dear reader, I will surprise you. You and I have more in common than that which separates us. I am not the radical ideologue many would wish me to be. My opinions are considered, developed, and ultimately deeply held. I say we are not that unalike, as I presume that reading his eponymous magazine you are a child of Burke. I am too.

Since sixteen years of age, the past seven years of my life, I have been a member of the British Conservative and Unionist party. I embraced the charisma of David Cameron, and through my secondary school education became an avid reader of Burke and eventually Benjamin Disraeli. Through Disraeli’s writings, both political and fictional, I evolved my first political conversion. I became a One Nation Conservative.

Indeed, for most of my political life, I was a One Nation Conservative. I believed in the enterprise of the middle class and their ability to generate wealth, and I believed that we as successes had a duty to at the very least mitigate the suffering of those who were losing the game of life. I believed in a minor, state provided safety net. I am sure that many of you still do.

All this changed when I attended Ulster University at Coleraine. There, surrounded by a dark sea of Left-wing demagogues, I managed fortuitously to meet one of the very few fellow capitalists on campus. I met a PhD student named Mark Kyle, who specialised in the writings of the once very popular Herbert Spencer.

There, in his office on the third floor of the now demolished South Building, we spent many precious hours of life discussing the finer details of politics, and where we as individuals differed in our viewpoints. In the sinking sun of a late November evening, when I was proselytising the duty of the middle to look after the working, Mark posed me a question which changed my life forever. The question he asked was “What exactly is your fair share of what someone else has worked for?” (A question I would later learn was the genius of Thomas Sowell).

I was quite frankly, in the most literal meaning of the word, speechless. I have always prided myself in my ability to talk. In fact, I have often been able to turn my own ignorance on a topic into several minutes of linguistic gymnastics, successfully selling airy trifles of little substance to my audiences as principled points. I could not. I stumbled. I told him that a flat tax could work, say 20%. He asked, “Why 20?”

We ran out of time. I went home and in one of my first dark nights of the soul I found myself in a philosophical waking nightmare. I could not sleep. I realised that Mark’s main point was that any level of taxation I advocated was, in essence, a point of arbitration. Why 20? Why not 19, or 21? Or 80? I decided in that moment to read Herbert Spencer. Mark gave me a very old edition of The Man Versus The State and I began to read.

I found in his works the wonderful dictation that ‘all socialism involves slavery.’ I realised he did not mean slavery in the literal sense of chains and canes. He meant it the way Sowell, and by extension Mark, had. By forcing people to work for the betterment of others, we make them slaves. It was that day when I became a Libertarian, not necessarily because I had all the answers (many of which I am still searching for), but rather because I believed it to be inherently more moral than my Conservatism.

I still advocate helping those less fortunate or successful, not through coercion, but as Spencer’s great friend Andrew Carnegie established in his article ‘Wealth,’ through philanthropy and charity, through voluntary action. That is the only moral form of social welfare.