By Sean Gabb
Remembering Brian Micklethwait:
The Man Who Made Libertarianism Fun
Obituary by Sean Gabb
Published on the 20th October 2021
in The Critic Magazine
Brian Hugh Micklethwait was born on the 26th September 1947, the youngest son of Sir Robert Micklethwait, a lawyer of some distinction who rose eventually to the post of Chief National Insurance Commissioner. His mother, Philippa, née Bosanquet, came from a legal family, and was related to the Bosanquets who were important in the Liberal Party at the end of the nineteenth century. Brian attended Marlborough public school in the early 1960s as a boarder, and went up to Cambridge in 1965 to study Architecture. After this, he studied Sociology at Essex University.
He voted Labour in the 1970 General Election. By 1980, he was a libertarian. The economic troubles of the intervening decade had seen a revival of interest in free market economics and the liberal tradition. The Institute of Economic Affairs now came out of the shadow in which the media had mostly placed it. Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman became household names. The Freedom Association and the Adam Smith Institute were founded. Margaret Thatcher became first the leader of the Conservative Party and then Prime Minister.
For Chris Tame and a group of other young intellectuals, these were steps in the right direction, but hardly exciting in themselves. They believed that the right to charge uncontrolled prices and not be bled white in taxes rested on exactly the same foundations as the right to take recreational drugs or to hold sado-masochistic sex parties. Their ideal was not economic efficiency, but personal freedom in the fullest sense. In 1979, they came together and formed the Libertarian Alliance, which was, in a vague but morally important institutional sense, an offshoot of Sir Ernest Benn’s Society of Individualists, which was in turn an offshoot of the great Liberty and Property Defence League of the nineteenth century. Though it welcomed minimal statists, the Libertarian Alliance was founded and led by anarcho-capitalists. Its motto was “For Life, Liberty and Property.” On the front page of the first issue of its journal, Free Life, was the declaration: