1994 Libertarian Spring Seminar

Written by: Trevor Watkins

The tenth annual Libertarian Spring Seminar was held at The Nest Hotel in the Central Drakensberg from 13 to 16 October. As always, it was a marvelous feast of friendship, fun and furious debate. A brief summary of the events follows.

After dinner on Thursday evening, Leon Louw entertained the early-comers to the conference with some radical thoughts on what people believe and why. The talk was based on his research for his forthcoming book on “Risk”, and led to considerable discussion on the concepts of truth and certainty.

Early on Friday morning, Gaven Weiman presented the challenging thought that our new interim Constitution may be the most libertarian constitution in the world. If Karl Popper’s interpretation of the term “open society” is widely used and promoted by libertarians, we may influence the meaning and application of the Constitution in a positive direction.

Gail Daus reflected on the alternatives of “Democracy or Mobocracy” now facing South Africa. She referred to the intimidation, harassment, and lack of meeting procedure prevalent in the forms in which she is involved. According to Gail, tantrum politics is what works, and agreement is often reached by exhaustion.

Jim Harris opened his talk on copyright with a moving tribute to his friend, Adrian Finch, who was meant to attend this conference but was tragically killed in an aircraft crash just a few weeks previously. As ever, Jim’s presentation was both intellectually challenging and mischievous, with the audience being called upon to make numerous judgments on difficult ethical issues.

Eustace Davie, who has been forbidden to talk on education by his editor until he has written a book on the subject, spoke on “From sound money to funny money”, which topic isn’t very funny if you have any money. He gave an interesting history of the origins of money, and on the decline of its value in South Africa.

In his familiar and controversial style, Symond Fiske asked what’s at the top of the pyramid of knowledge and understanding. “Value-free eggheads” relying on reason alone, cannot be trusted to arrive at a useful conclusion. As ever, Symond’s talk provided much fuel for discussion.

Roelof van der Merwe provided a few practical hints on the environment from a personal perspective, and the Friday afternoon session ended with a report-back from the various libertarian-related organisations.

The highlight of the conference for me was Linda Abrams’ dramatic presentation of the poetry of “Berton Braley: The Bard of Business” on Friday evening. Linda was our only international delegate, coming from Los Angeles to be with us. She has collected and published the works of Berton Braley, AMerica’s most-published poet, and tours the world giving performances of his poetry, as well as presenting living history and period performances with her touring troupe. A sample of Braley’s work is published on page 16 of this issue.

On Saturday morning, Norman Davis asked the question “The RDP: Is it worth it?” The text of his talk appears on page 8 of this issue.

Peter Voss gave a scholarly analysis of what lies “Beyond Objectivism”, which appears on page 12, also in this issue.

After tea on Saturday morning, Gary Moore discussed the “Myth and Reality of Federalism”, and Jim Peron presented an alternative to the traditional view of “Population Control”.

I challenged the vagaries of both the local telephone system and power supply to demonstrate a trip on the Internet, followed by a talk on “Freedom in Cyberspace”. I suggested that the huge international network of computer networks known collectively as the Internet provides the best demonstration of libertarian concepts at work in an unconstrained environment.

Peter Arnold, a newcomer to libertarian seminars, gave a fascinating talk on “Why did the children of Waco have to die?” With uncanny persistence, the concept of Libertaria is championed by someone at virtually every conference. Peter suggested that the events at Waco were part of an organised effort by the United States government to destroy a movement that challenged its authority and expressed the wish to establish a community based on the principles of freedom and respect for the individual, somewhere remote from the influence of government.

Velma Gore had the misfortune to leave the notes for her talk at home, but nevertheless delivered an eloquent address in defence of elitism, a feat that only an elite few amongst us could have managed.

The hotel organised a very lively disco on Saturday night, run by the original hyperactive Hell’s Granny. She is the only disc jockey I know who would play “Achey Breakey Heart” three times in quick succession, to the ultimate exhaustion of the dancers. Ron Weissenberg and Carola Nussgruber showed us all how to trip the light fantastic in amazing style, leaving many a lead-footed libertarian green with envy.

On Sunday morning, Nils Dittmer presented a case study on terrorism in the red meat industry. Nils has recently changed his main aspiration in life from “Leopard-crawling over 10,000 hectares of boobs” to farming 10,000 head of cattle. In an often hilarious speech, Nils traced the history of the Meat Board and his role in its imminent downfall.

A disillusioned Frances Kendall confirmed that politicians are as black as they have been painted. Frances related her experiences on the Transitional Metropolitan Council, where she has become known as “The Iron Lady”. Despite difficulties and discomforts, she believes that she has been able to make a difference in this forum, and will continue to do so.

Graeme Levin ended the seminar by proposing the deregulation of gambling and included some practical demonstrations.

As usual, we tried to fit too much talking into too little time. But all in all, it was a great seminar which I would not have missed for the world. Many thanks to Libby Husemeyer and her team of organisers.

Disclaimer: This article originally appeared in The Individualist of October 1994 (Vol. 18 No. 3). The Individualist was last published by the Libertarian Society of South Africa.

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