Culture

Classical Liberal Pirates

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Randall Bloomquist reviews what sounds like a very interesting book about British pirate radio in the '60s:

Smedley's station

The phrase pirate radio conjures an image of wild times on the high seas as free-spirited DJs in the 1960s stick it to The Man by giving the kids their rock 'n' roll. But Adrian Johns's "Death of a Pirate" is more concerned with Friedrich von Hayek and "The Road to Serfdom" than with Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones. Mr. Johns, a University of Chicago history professor who specializes in intellectual property, portrays the British radio pirates not in the warm glow of sentimental memory that the period usually enjoys but in the historian's cold bright light. "Death of a Pirate" is, in its way, a treasure.

At the center of the tale stands Oliver Smedley, a conservative political activist and entrepreneur determined to stop what he saw as Britain's slide toward socialism. After dabbling in politics and journalism in the 1950s, he launched a network of think tanks and political organizations that pressed his call to cut taxes, slash public spending, eliminate tariffs and reduce government's role in economic life. When in 1964 two like-minded acquaintances pitched him on the idea of launching a pirate-radio ship, Smedley seized on the project as a chance to trade talk for action by taking on statism's pride and joy, the BBC.

The rest of the article is here; the book itself is here. Richard Curtis attempts to rewrite the relevant history here. I should correct Bloomquist on a matter of terminology: Smedley considered himself a classical liberal, not a conservative. He was a vice-president of the old Liberal Party, split with it over whether free traders should support the Common Market, and eventually founded this third party as an alternative.