The Only Conference Worth Attending


The Only Conference Worth Attending: A Personal Account of the 11th Conference of the Property & Freedom Society
By Keir Martland
(10th September 2016)

In an age when most conference speeches are almost automatically uploaded to Vimeo or YouTube, why bother going to the conference in person? Surely, it is so much more enjoyable to watch the conference speeches in the comfort of your own living room from your laptop, one per night for about a week? Conferences are generally awful. The speakers can be dull. The room might be ugly. The chairs might be uncomfortable. The food – if there is any – might be inedible. There is never any entertainment. Why bother going?

This holds up pretty well for most conferences, but not for the annual conference of the Property & Freedom Society, hosted by Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe and Dr. Guelcin İmre Hoppe at the gorgeous Hotel Karia Princess in Bodrum, Turkey. As Dr İmre Hoppe put it last year in her own speech, the PFS is the Club Med of conferences.

The annual meetings of the PFS are the only conferences designed as if the attendees actually mattered. As I said, other conferences are awful. I could now start a long digression on the particular flaws of all the other conferences I attend, but that would not be very charitable. Instead, I will explain just what it is about the annual meetings in Bodrum that makes them so enormously enjoyable.

Taken by Sean Gabb

Taken by Sean Gabb

First, the format is leisurely. The formal proceedings start late, after a comfortable window for breakfast, and then after a few speeches there is a long lunch break. The formal proceedings then resume and are over with long before dinner, allowing bags of time to read, dress, shower, sunbathe, swim, play tennis, nap, or whatever else takes your fancy. Oh, and after every speech there is a 15 minute coffee break. These breaks are essential, and yet I can’t recall attending any other conference with them. Instead, what usually follows speeches at most poorly organised conferences is a long “Q & A” session, which basically just becomes an excuse for bores to drone on and on while hogging the microphone – and occasionally they might actually have a question! At PFS, this is remedied by the use of panel sessions at the end of every day of speeches, which work much better than monotonous questions and answers. After every speech, Professor Hoppe stands up and reminds everyone of the welcome 15 minute break and attendees stretch their legs, drink coffee or water, or go outside to smoke. At this point the conference room and the one adjoining it becomes filled with conversation – on all manner of topics, not just the contents of the last speech. I will return to the topic of conversations later, but here I will just stress the importance of it.

Me asking a question to one of the panel sessions, about big business I think.

Me asking a question to one of the panel sessions, about big business I think.

Second, the food and drink is rather important. When I attended my first meeting of the PFS last year, I was somewhat apprehensive about foreign food, being a northern Englishman and thus destined to live a life of ignorance and chip-butties. To my astonishment, the food was delicious – I won’t say “to die for”, only because that is a stupid thing to say about food – and ever since September 2015 my diet has been heavily modelled on it. Sadly, the range of olives available for purchase in England is somewhat limited, but I make do with whatever I can get. Breakfast at the Karia Princess is always a joy. Most of the meals are a vast buffet, and so what you eat is pretty much up to you, but I find a selection of meats, cheeses, and olives is a glorious way to start the day. The food – and perhaps the Turkish heat – also does wonders for my figure, as both last year and this year, I came back to England on average 4lbs lighter! PFS has also been described by Stephan Kinsella as “the land of successive hangovers”, which I found this year, having turned 18 this July, to be broadly correct. Every evening starts with conversation over drinks at the bar, and I kept telling myself that the gin and tonic would cool me down. Even if that turned about to be false, the gin did allow me to talk rather more easily to some people who until then were complete strangers.

Taken by Andy Duncan

Taken by Andy Duncan

Third, the surroundings are beautiful, inside and out. Whether we are talking about the hotel rooms – incidentally, some urchin kept placing coffee, tea, and Turkish delights on my hotel room dressing table, which was charming – or about the pool area where we all sat for meal times, the Karia Princess is without fault. The entire conference seems to always be organised with not just intellectual rigour in mind, but also aesthetics. And the participants themselves seem to be no exception. Am I veering towards the absurd if I say that the attendees are much prettier than other libertarians and conservatives, or at least that they obviously take better care of themselves and have a better sense of style? Perhaps everything looks better in the sun, especially to an Englishman who only sees it once a year if he’s lucky. The conference is not confined to the Karia Princess, however, as on the penultimate day we all walk down to the marina for the boat trip. Of course, there are too many of us for just one boat, and so there are several, and this year myself, Sean Gabb, Walter Block, Mitzi Perdue, Rahim Taghizadegan and a few others, had the high honour of joining the Hoppes on their boat. The boats all stop near a beach frequented by wild boars, and there is again much conversation, good food, swimming, tea etc. You can derive a certain aesthetic satisfaction from this also – indeed, you’d have to be pretty strange not to.

pfs-2016-block-w-080

Dr Block on market failure

Fourth, the speeches are of an insanely good standard. It would be cruel to single any of them out, but not doing so might leave open the possibility that I just spent the days smoking, eating, drinking, and talking by the pool, and I that would never do. Therefore, off the top of my head, Professor Hoppe’s speech on argumentation ethics, in which he seemed to me – a mere amateur historian – to add considerably to his previous work and to deliver a number of smack down arguments to his detractors, Rahim’s speech on the history and nature of universities, Dr Block’s university-style lecture on various so-called market failures, Anthony Daniels’ speech on fake illnesses and the insurance industry, and Sean going at Margaret Thatcher with a blow-torch, all stood out as some of the best speeches I have ever heard “live.” My own speech – on the English Revolution of 1688 – seemed to go down moderately well. On reflection, I think I did speak too quickly, even though people told me I did not, and perhaps I should have made it a little more light-hearted considering I was on just after lunch. Professor Norman Stone approached me afterwards, grinning, and said something like, “I thought your speech was disgusting, but really well-delivered!” In the coffee break after that, we stood outside hotel smoking and had a good bitch about some leftist academics, although he had nothing but good to say about the recently retired Professor John Morrill of my own Selwyn College, Cambridge.

Group photo, credit Vít Jedlička.

Group photo, credit Vít Jedlička.

Fifth, the conversation is some of the most stimulating you will have all year. The motto of the PFS is “uncompromising intellectual radicalism” and this extents to both the speeches and the conversation over breakfast, lunch, coffee, and dinner. Again, it feels rude to single out any of the conversations from this year, but at the same time I feel the need to illustrate my point. I had lunch and dinner with Walter Block on the penultimate day and then breakfast on the day of departure and much of our conversation was rather technical and legalistic. Walter and I disagree on abortion and immigration, myself taking the more “conservative” positions on the two issues and Walter somewhere between my position and the “liberal” position. Our informal debates, whether on the boat, on the way back from the marina, or at the dinner table, were lively, productive, civil, and both of us argued clearly and efficiently, with use of analogies, precise terminology, and reasonably good logical deduction. If neither of us had changed our minds by the end of our debates, we had at least entertained each other. Brecht Arnaert and I spent much of our dinnertime discussion on one of the first days discussing Hilaire Belloc. On the Gala Night, I had a good chat with Mattheus von Guttenberg about war and peace. Yousif Almoayyed, later in the conference, told me how the citizens of Bahrain are more socialistic than the government. On the boat trip, there was a brilliant discussion of Crusader, Byzantine, and Ottoman history. I also received fascinating insights about marketing from author, businesswoman, and television presenter Mitzi Perdue. On the penultimate night, having discussed immigration with Walter Block to the point of exhaustion, Christian, Arthur, Sean, Walter, and myself, discussed whether libertarianism is on the Left or the Right. During this discussion, not only was I surprised to be the only one at the table arguing for libertarianism as on the Right, but I was astonished to see Walter and Sean agree on so much. Perhaps it is time to start calling the Director of the Libertarian Alliance, “Sean Moderate Gabb.”

Poor quality photograph taken by yours truly

Poor quality photograph of Walter and Sean taken by yours truly

Last, but not least, PFS is fun. That seems to me to be the main difference between PFS and every other conference in existence. Yes, the speeches are better. Yes, the food and drink is better. Yes, everything is prettier. Yes, the conversation is stimulating. But when you take a more holistic view, the PFS is just good fun. Where else can you, while tucking into pudding, feel a wet sensation on your left leg and find that Walter Block has splashed you while doing the butterfly? Where else can you sit around with Hans-Hermann Hoppe et al laughing about the recent sordid sex scandal from British politics? Where else can you be interrupted during conversation with new friends by two massive parrots? Where else can you see financial expert Andy Duncan so drunk he would kiss another man on the forehead? At what other libertarian conference can you laugh at Americans, prompted by other Americans? At no other conference is there such a perfect intermingling of libertarianism and conservatism, of businessmen and academics, of different ages, religions, and nationalities, all united in one thing: the pursuit of truth, justice, and beauty. I expect there was initially some worry, in light of the political situation in Turkey earlier this year, that attendance would be low and that the mood of the conference would be sour. This was most certainly not the case, and while I’m about it I’ll wish Professor Hoppe a belated happy birthday.

boat

On the boat trip. Sean Gabb’s right elbow making a cameo appearance.

In short, for a while I was sad to leave and go back to England. But the withdrawal symptoms will soon wear off, I guess.

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27 thoughts on “The Only Conference Worth Attending

  1. So what, except for feeding your intellectual vanity. Presumably you can go back home with the feeling “that put the world to rights”. What has it done or will it do to stop the corruption of our constitution and therefore our liberty by the political party system? Indeed, who at the conference is aware that this problem exists?

  2. Pingback: Martland: The Only Conference Worth Attending: A Personal Account of the 11th Conference of the Property & Freedom Society

    • I will respond briefly here.

      I appreciate that you have a negative view of Islam, which I happen not to share . “Any true Muslim should believe X, Y, Z” or “just read the Koran!” or “Islam is not a religion of peace” are all becoming very tired platitudes indeed. And when trashy people in the media and politics are the ones pushing the anti-Islam narrative, it should make you suspicious of their motives (they are invariably hawks who want to “bomb them back to the Stone Age” or words to that effect). Regarding “those cartoons”, the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were a vile group of cultural Marxists, not some brave freedom-fighters. They published some equally vile cartoons mocking the Christian faith.

      However, I would just point out that there are a number of PFS attendees who are of your point of view, and the topic is discussed over dinner as freely as any other topic.

      You have no reason to fear for your safety. Turkey is still a safe, and indeed a normal, country, despite the recent trouble. The natives are good people, and the country is no more visibly Islamic than one of the southern States of America is visibly lunatic Southern Baptist.

      The hostess of the conference is a Muslim, and sometimes members of her family are in attendance. They are all very charming and highly intelligent.

      Having only attended the conference, and visited Turkey, twice, I cannot comment with any great authority but I will at least say that I never once felt in danger or unwelcome either in Turkey or at the Muslim-owned Karia Princess Hotel.

      You would not be in any danger, and you would not even be made to feel unwelcome. I understand that you have your views on Islam, just as I might – for supposition’s sake – have uncharitable views about Judaism and the Jews. Even if I did hold such views I would like to think that I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to spend a week at the King David Hotel, hosted by a charming Jewish couple, with a hundred of the most radical libertarians in the world. I also hope that, if the Mises Institute was to put on a lavish conference in Bible Belt Alabama, hosted by for example Gary North, I would not turn it down for fear of encountering views and people with whom I profoundly disagree.

      In short, we all have our prejudices – and goodness knows I have mine – but it isn’t always necessary to act on them.

      • Firstly, I just want to say that I am a fan of your work, so don’t take anything I say here as a personal attack.

        Furthermore, I don’t disagree with much of what you said, in principle. However, I cannot say that I agree with everything. The comparison of America’s Bible Belt or a stay at Israel’s King David Hotel might be perfectly appropriate for 8 out of 10 people. But as Ilana mentions in her post, she has been a long-time, public critic of Islam. Here I confess that I am ignorant as to the content of Ilana’s criticisms of Islam. I don’t know if she has a distaste for the religion itself and its practitioners or just for certain interpretations of it and the violent people who subscribe to those interpretations.
        In this case, though, it is beside the point.
        She does not cite her reservations about the doctrines of the religion as her reason for not attending the conference, but rather because she fears that one of the more radical adherents of that religion might take lethal measures to express his contempt for her criticisms, whatever they may be. For this reason, I don’t think that the analogies you employ here are adequately analogous to her situation. This because I find it highly unlikely that in either of these two cases she would have cause to fear for her life.

        Now, I am no bigot. I have nothing at all against Islam. I have, in fact, read the Koran. I studied Arabic in university and I spent a year living in a city that was two-thirds Islamic. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, for the most part. I met many good people. But in my short stay there, I also encountered some real dangers. I was interrogated by my muslim neighbors during my second week in the city as to what my purpose was for my visit. I was asked outright to identify my faith and answer as to whether or not I was there as a missionary (I wasn’t). I was then invited to go with them to beat up some other group of foreigners attending a nearby Mormon temple (likely to help them determine by my response if I was one). When I refused, I was threatened and forced to abandon the apartment.

        I later discovered that two American missionaries in that area had previously been attacked and stabbed in a park a few short bocks away from my apartment. One died of blood loss, the other had to be flown out for emergency surgery. True, missionary work, especially as a foreigner preaching an alien faith, is not the best way to endear oneself to one’s hosts. However, I doubt that the same treatment is likely to have been meted out in Auburn. I have plenty other such anecdotes, which I can relate privately if asked. But I think the above is sufficient to support the point that I will now make.

        Much the same as Bodrum, I was in a modern, developed city. The Islam practiced by the large majority of the Muslim population was not radical or threatening at all. People dressed fashionably, women attended mosque in high heels and skirts or colorful dresses. Christians, Muslims, athiests, and others lived together quite peaceably and without much attention paid to who was in which camp. Nor would one likely have been able to tell without much effort. But as those two Mormon missionaries discovered, if you happen to be the right kind of undesirable and your presence happens to disturb the wrong sort, that’s all it takes.

        As I said, I decided to stay in that city for the full term I had originally planned. I enjoyed my time there. It wasn’t a bad city. But there were dangers. For someone like me who, aside from being foreign, didn’t particularly stand out or do anything to arouse the ire of my hosts, the danger wasn’t much greater than it would likely have been in any big city with which I was ill acquainted. However, for someone with a reputation such as Ilana’s, as she describes it, I wouldn’t recommend it as a vacation destination. Nor would I suggest she was a bigot for preferring to stay away.

  3. Pingback: Against Islamophobia | The Libertarian Alliance Blog

  4. Pingback: Sean Gabb: Against Islamophobia « Attack the System

  5. Pingback: Against Islamophobia (2016), by Sean Gabb - SEAN GABB

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