Chris R. Tame

Founder of the Libertarian Alliance


Christopher Ronald Tame, bibliographer and political activist: born Enfield, Middlesex 20 December 1949; Director, Libertarian Alliance 1979-2006, President 2006; Manager, Alternative Bookshop 1979-85; Director, Forest 1988-95; married 1977 Judy Englander (marriage dissolved 1992), 1994 Maria O'Sullivan (marriage dissolved 1998); died London 20 March 2006.

Scholar, bibliographer, writer, political strategist, martial artist and fan of Elvis Presley, Chris R. Tame will be best remembered as the founder of the Libertarian Alliance. In this capacity, he worked tirelessly for nearly 30 years to recreate a British liberal tradition that had disintegrated, and to establish clear title for those of his own views to the word "libertarian".

Tame was brought up in Godalming in Surrey, the only child of a war veteran who had entered the print trade, and a nurse. After attending a Church of England primary school and the local grammar school, he went up to Hull University, from where he graduated in 1971 with a degree in American Studies.

He settled in London at a time of great and continuing political excitement. High inflation, rising unemployment, unsustainable levels of taxation and state control, had raised doubts over the legitimacy of the mixed-economy/ welfare-state settlement of the 1940s and of the political and social order that presided over it. Allied with trade-union bosses, a generation of radicalised students was plotting to replace the old order with some socialist utopia. They were resisted by various conservative and free market policy institutes, all more or less funded by big business. The boundaries of debate had never been so wide.

Though he worked for a number of these policy institutes - mainly the Institute of Economic Affairs and the National Association for Freedom (now renamed the Freedom Association) - Tame was concerned that an older and more traditional voice should be heard again. This was the voice of English classical liberalism - the liberalism of John Locke and Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill and Herbert Spencer among others. This was a voice that spoke of freedom not simply as a set of incentives to raise the gross national product, nor as some vague call to liberation in all matters but economic. It was a voice that spoke of freedom in the social, political and economic aspects of human life. The right to make money as a private landlord rested on the same grounds as the right to inject heroin or to attend sado-masochistic orgies in the open air.

The Libertarian Alliance emerged from a series of discussions among friends. In these, Tame distinguished himself by his speculative boldness and his organisational ability. When the time came to formalise the structure of the Libertarian Alliance - in 1979 - there was no serious dispute that Tame was to be its leader.

His strategy as Director - and later, this year, as President - of the Libertarian Alliance was to avoid the mistakes that had come close to wrecking the much larger and richer American movement. British libertarianism would not be sectarian. In all the usual debates - natural rights or utilitarianism as a foundation, or anarchism or minimal statism as an object - the Libertarian Alliance would take no corporate position. It would instead provide a forum within which the debates could be held between friends.

At the same time, British libertarians would not put up candidates for election. Without huge funding, political parties were a waste of effort. They encouraged disputes over trifles and between personalities. They almost demanded a softening of controversial opinions. Above all, they never led to political success.

Chris Tame saw through the optimism of the late 1970s and early Thatcher years. Where others saw a rolling back of the state, he saw in privatisation only a more rational - and thus a more efficient - type of statist control. "These new markets are never free," he once said, "and they are always dominated by the ruling class." He believed that the second half of the 20th century had seen a collapse of the moral and social and intellectual foundations of English liberty, and that there was no short-term strategy for its restoration. British libertarianism was not in the same position as socialism in 1945. It was in the same position as socialism in 1845.

Therefore, it was necessary to work a step at a time towards some future intellectual hegemony. Rather than propagandise the masses, libertarians had to win over the intellectuals to the point where they would do the propagandising. This meant a programme of scholarship and intensive publication. Radio and television appearances were useful, but were as nothing compared with a well-referenced pamphlet setting the case against compulsory seatbelt laws or limited liability laws that turned free markets into corporatist playgrounds.

And so Tame worked hard and without respite to advance a long-term agenda of intellectual change. He worked on in the face of personal and professional disappointments. During the 1980s and 1990s, he gathered around himself a diverse circle of writers and activists who shared his commitment to putting the libertarian case. By the end of the 20th century, there was no doubt that the Libertarian Alliance was part of the furniture of political debate in Britain. Radio presenters no longer asked its spokesmen, "Tell me, John - what is the Libertarian Alliance?"

Tame also advanced the cause in a number of separate but similar ventures. As Manager of the Alternative Bookshop between 1979 and 1985, he provided a physical base in central London for libertarians from all over the world. This was particularly important in a world not yet blessed with the internet. He also managed to sell large numbers of books about liberty - including such titles of his own as Taxation is Theft (1979). At the time of his death he was working on a seven-volume Bibliography of Freedom.

As Director of the Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco (Forest) between 1988 and 1995, he was able to put his ideas about winning the battle of ideas to memorable effect. In his time, he wore out three directors of the main anti-smoking pressure group. And he forced the anti-tobacco movement to stop complaining about the alleged harm of tobacco to those who smoked it and instead about those exposed to the smoking of others.

In July 2005, Chris Tame was diagnosed with a rare and very aggressive form of bone cancer. Though only 55 at the time, and though he had avoided all those vices commonly believed to be dangerous, he took this diagnosis with great calmness. During the next eight months, he faced his approaching end with a fortitude and good-humour that was an inspiration to those around him.

To the very end, he retained a keen interest in public affairs and in the welfare of his friends and loved ones. On his last day, he made sure to check his e-mails.

Sean Gabb

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